Berkeley County one step closer to putting penny sales tax before voters

Dan Davis, Berkeley County Supervisor

The S.C. Legislature has paved the way for Berkeley County to continue improving roads.

The House on Wednesday unanimously approved on second reading a change to state law that would allow entities to ask voters to extend their 1 percent sales tax for seven years before it runs out.

"That makes me very happy," said County Supervisor Dan Davis. "It will make a lot of people happy."

The law would affect any county or municipality with local sales and use taxes or toll revenues for transportation infrastructure that has not imposed the tax for the 25-year maximum. Charleston and Dorchester, for instance, are not affected because both passed a 25-year transportation tax in 2004.

The bill has been approved by the Senate and is expected to get a final endorsement in the House on Thursday. It will likely go to Gov. Nikki Haley to be signed into law on Friday.

"I voted for the bill giving the citizens of Berkeley County the opportunity to decide whether they believe paying the 1 cent sales tax is in the best interest of our county," said Rep. Samuel Rivers Jr., R-Goose Creek. "I trust the judgment of the people."

Since 2008, shoppers in Berkeley County have paid an extra penny on each dollar spent to fund roadwork.

County leaders say the program has been instrumental in improving driving conditions and they want to keep it going seamlessly, but current state law requires that a referendum-approved tax run its course before it can go before voters again. In addition, the question previously had to be asked during a general election.

That meant that, with Berkeley's tax set to run out in May 2015, the county couldn't ask voters for an extension until November 2016. Davis estimated the months without revenue collection would cost the county about $15 million.

County Council gave preliminary nods in April and May to a resolution that would put the issue to voters in November.

Davis, who is up for re-election this year, has also been working to eliminate the county's transportation impact fee, which he called "one of the worst things Berkeley County has ever done."

The impact fee was originally intended to fund infrastructure improvements in the Jedburg area but has instead deterred development in the lower part of the county, Davis said.

If the sales tax is extended, it would make up for funds lost from repealing the impact fee, he said.

Since the sales tax program started, it has collected about $72 million to fund projects such as the Henry Brown Boulevard extension, the widening of Clements Ferry Road, College Park Road and U.S. Highway 17A, improvements at key intersections throughout the county and repaving of dozens of roads.

Several projects still remain, such as phase II of the widening of Clements Ferry Road and phase II of the Henry Brown Boulevard (North Rhett) extension, Davis said. Those projects were on the original project list in 2008 but were cut due to a lack of funding.

Councilman Tim Callanan, chairman of the finance committee, said he is planning to have a meeting June 17 to discuss specific projects for the next round of the tax.

Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713 or @brindge on Twitter.