Greenville County Council added $10 to its annual road maintenance fee charged to all registered vehicles in the county with a final vote Nov. 15 that split the council 7-5.
The $10 will be added to annual vehicle property tax bills going forward, bringing the total residents are charged in road maintenance fees to $25 per year.
The additional fee won’t be retroactive on bills already issued, said County Administrator Joe Kernell.
The county reinstated $10 to the roads fee that was removed in mid-2021 after the state Supreme Court ruled the fee invalid. State lawmakers changed the law this past year to allow counties to pass fees like the one in Greenville County, which gave the county the authority to reinstate it.
In 2021, the county cut its road paving list by 30 percent due to lost revenue from the roads fee. This year the county is scheduled to pave 32 miles of roads out of 1,825 miles the county maintains, less than two percent of its inventory.
The roads fee is the sole revenue stream the county uses for pay for road maintenance and the county budgeted $10 million for road improvements in its annual budget this year.
“We’re just putting back in place what was already there. This is nothing new," said Councilman Ennis Fant. “Not only do we need it now. We needed it when we did it the first time."
A a number of council members said they wouldn’t support the reinstated fee.
Councilman Steve Shaw echoed the Supreme Court ruling and called it “a tax masquerading as a fee” before he voted against it. Councilman Stan Tzouvelekas asked why the county couldn’t find money somewhere else in the budget to use instead.
Councilman Joe Dill said he couldn’t support it because “this is a bad time to do this fee.”
Dill cited the county’s involvement in a lawsuit brought by Jerry Bruce of Greer against the county over the road maintenance fee and a county telecommunications fee that the Supreme Court invalidated. That lawsuit is pending and hasn’t gone to discovery yet. A judge in March declined the county’s request to dismiss the lawsuit outright. Mediation is scheduled to go through mid-January between the parties.
Chairman Willis Meadows and Councilman Mike Barnes joined Shaw, Tzouvelekas and Dill in opposition. Council members Lynn Ballard, Chris Harrison, Butch Kirven, Xanthene Norris, Liz Seman and Dan Tripp joined Fant in voting to approve the reinstatement of the $10 fee.
Fant said his long-term goal is for county residents to consider voting in a countywide referendum to start a one percent sales tax to pay for road projects in the county. Voters would have to approve the penny tax for up to seven years to pay for a specific list of road projects that would be drafted by a committee of residents.
A previous penny tax referendum failed in 2014. Some business and government stakeholders have cited $1 billion in needed road improvements over the next decade in the county.
A penny tax would raise close to $90 million per year, far more than the county now dedicates to roads. A study that coincided with the 2014 referendum found that about 30 percent of the revenue would come from people who live outside of the county.
The penny tax could likely be used to pay for projects on state-maintained roads. Other counties have funded projects on state roads and then sought reimbursement from the state.
But it would be up to voters to decide the fate of any penny tax. If it’s held, a referendum would likely be tied to the 2024 general election.