Courthouse Park

Courthouse Park in St. George is one of several projects in Dorchester County being delayed by a lawsuit over the 2016 quality-of-life referendum. Provided 

Almost two years after Dorchester County voters said they were willing to pay for new parks and libraries, a lawsuit contesting the validity of the referendum appears headed to the state Supreme Court.

A hearing is scheduled for Oct. 18 in Columbia.

The case centers on whether the county acted legally when it combined two issues into a single referendum question in 2016, when voters were asked if they wanted to raise their taxes to fund $30 million in new libraries and $13 million in new and improved parks.

About 60 percent voted yes.

Weeks before the referendum, lawyers Mike Rose and Andy Gowder filed a lawsuit trying to stop the referendum or have it declared invalid. The suit was on behalf of some residents and the Dorchester County Taxpayers Association, which describes itself as an independent local organization funded by donations.

County officials countered the two could be combined because they are both related to quality of life.

The lawsuit was dismissed in December by Circuit Judge Edgar Dickson, and a motion to rehear the case was denied in February. The issue now lies with the state Supreme Court.

Rose declined to comment on the case Thursday.

“After almost two years of expensive delays, appeals, and legal maneuvering by the plaintiffs, the people of our community in Dorchester County will get their day at the South Carolina Supreme Court,” said County Council Chairman Jay Byars. “The Circuit Court has already dismissed this case last year as having no merit. I am confident the Supreme Court will also rule in the favor of the people of Dorchester County and we can begin building the first-class parks and libraries that the people voted for that other communities like Greenville and Rock Hill have had for years.”

In May, Lester Dempsey, who unsuccessfully challenged Byars for his District 7 council seat in the June Republican Primary, asked council to put the matter back before voters again this November, as two questions this time.

County Council declined, but several members said the delay of the ongoing litigation is costing taxpayers.

The county stands to lose federal grants intended to help build the $4.4 million Courthouse Park, officials said.

In addition, Byars said estimated that construction costs have risen $6 million — about the cost of a new library — while the legal wrangling has been going on. And that doesn't include the county's legal tab.

In the meantime, the county has pressed forward with plans. The Courthouse Park’s design has been ready since October, Park and Recreation Director Eric Davis said. The county is ready to put the project out for bids and issue the bonds as soon as the lawsuit is settled, officials said.

The measure will add about $48 to the annual property tax bill of a $200,000 owner-occupied home, but the county will not start collecting the money until and unless it prevails in court.

Reach Brenda Rindge at 843-937-5713. Follow her on Twitter @brindge.