People moving in from other states the main reason for rising S.C. population

People moving in from other states made South Carolina the nation's 10th-fastest growing state in 2016. One result has been the need for more houses and schools, new bridges and wider roads. Shown here, the since-completed widening of Johnnie Dodds Boulevard/U.S. Highway 17 in Mount Pleasant. File

MOUNT PLEASANT — Mount Pleasant Waterworks is hoping to persuade Charleston County officials to include money for water and sewer line relocations in a potential $2.1 billion sales tax referendum on the fall ballot.

The tax referendum is aimed at funding road projects, but such projects invariably end up requiring expensive utility work. If there’s no funding to move water and sewer lines, said MPW General Manage Clay Duffie, utility customers could end up paying both a higher sales tax and higher water and sewer bills.

“We want the referendum to be successful, we want the road improvements, but this is kind of our last chance to ask for financial assistance,” Duffie said. “If we don’t get it, water bills will go up because of the roads.”

When roads are widened, utilities can face millions of dollars in costs for relocating water and sewer lines. When U.S. Highway 17 was widened in Mount Pleasant, it cost MPW more than $8 million, none of which was covered by the road funding. Instead, the utility put a $3 monthly surcharge on water and sewer bills that lasted three years and covered about half the expense.

“There’s no money, except from our customers,” Duffie said.

With Mount Pleasant officials hoping the proposed half-percent sales tax referendum would help fund a widening of S.C. Highway 41, the utility could be looking at another $8 million in costs. Duffie estimates that road projects since 2007, including the proposed Highway 41 widening and work on Coleman Boulevard, add up to $1,000 in costs for each of the utility’s roughly 36,000 customers.

Charleston Water System, the largest water and sewer utility in the county, has not embraced the effort to include utility line relocation costs in the potential referendum.

“We are aware of the request from Mount Pleasant Waterworks,” said spokesman Matthew Brady. “Charleston Water is still reviewing all of the information, and we have not taken a position at this time.”

Charleston County Council is expected to discuss the referendum at a Finance Committee meeting July 19, and at subsequent meetings on July 21 and 28. The county has until Aug. 15 to get the referendum wording to the Charleston County Board of Elections and Voter Registration, Joe Debney, the board’s executive director, has said.

Public input meetings aimed at getting feedback on what the potential referendum money should pay for were held last month. There are competing road projects, as well as calls for more funding for mass transit and the protection of open space. Total requests for funding add up to far more than the proposed tax would cover.

The previous half-percent sales tax referendum was approved by county voters in 2004. The measure raised the sales tax in Charleston County by a half-percent for 25 years, to raise $1.3 billion, including financing costs. It included funding for mass transit and $221.6 million for a greenbelt program, but no money for utility line relocations necessary for road projects.

Reach David Slade at 843-937-5552 or twitter.com/DSladeNews.