SUMMERVILLE -- A new Dorchester County detention center remains the county's top building priority, despite an $18 million cost that will require a tax increase and use nearly all the remaining bond money the county can borrow without a referendum.
County Council will weigh options like a property tax increase that, as a rough estimate, could add $8 to the tax on a $100,000 home, said County Auditor James Messervy. He said that until bond and other details are worked out, it is too soon to say what the actual tax would be. Council also might ask for a public referendum on a penny sales tax to help offset property taxes.
Council members also are looking at restructuring a commitment to Trident Technical College to help pay for a new nursing school.
The original commitment means the county would pay $3.7 million in the next two years. Council members want to extend that over 10 years to free up more money.
The detention center was made a top priority last year. Council members re-affirmed support after a capital improvement project workshop Tuesday.
The tax bump would put a rocky end to a long campaign among council members to keep from raising property taxes. Councilman Bill Hearn paraphrased the late Jack Langston, former county administrator, saying: "If you continue putting off going to the dentist, you're going to get a root canal. Gentlemen, it's root canal time."
With media and others in the audience, Hearn and other council members stressed that in the long term, the detention center is a money saver. The existing jail in St. George is obsolete, overcrowded and not up to code. Councilman George Bailey called it deplorable and said it could lead to a potential lawsuit. The building could be renovated to a smaller youth detention center that would take inmates from other counties as a revenue producer.
The new jail would be built on Hodge Road in Jedburg, near the county's law enforcement complex, saving manpower, transportation and other costs, council members said.
Reach Bo Petersen at 937-5744 or follow him on Twitter at @bopete.