SUMMERVILLE — Residents will pay a few dollars more for lights, gas and cable television. Town Council approved increasing franchise fees in a testy 4-3 vote this week.
The vote came after council heard from eight people who opposed a tax increase or were concerned about those already struggling to pay the light bill.
The 2 percentage point increase in fees is earmarked for road improvements, in the wake of state and federal funding cutbacks.
The increase means people now will pay a 5 percent surcharge on their monthly bills.
“Take a second look” at other ways to pay for roads, urged resident Jewel Miley. “I don’t think residents can bear the hardship of the (new) fees.”
Only Rutherford Smith spoke for the fees, calling the revenue “probably a drop in the bucket” compared with road needs, and saying they are fairer than a property tax increase, because not everyone in town pays property taxes.
Councilman Aaron Brown said it wasn’t the town’s job to build roads to handle traffic predicted to come from new developments.
“The town is supposed to provide basic resources; that’s what taxes are for,” he said. “We don’t need to support developers, hoping benefits come back to the citizens.”
Brown’s motion to table the final vote on the fees failed to get a second. Councilmen Bob Jackson and Bill McIntosh also voted against.
The fee is a charge local governments levy on utilities to operate within their jurisdictions. It’s a “back door” tax, because the charge is routinely passed on to customers.
Summerville’s hike is expected to bring the town more than $1 million per year in new revenue, up from $1.9 million to $3.2 million.
The chief project town leaders have in mind is to extend Sheep Island Road, to accommodate an expected overflow of Interstate 26 traffic coming off an interchange planned for where the road crosses the interstate.
Council members stressed that the fees will be used for more roads than the Sheep Island extension.
Also at the meeting, more than a half-dozen people spoke for or against the town’s planned skateboard park near Spann Elementary School and the Richland Street neighborhood.
Some neighborhoods residents said they didn’t want the nuisance. Others said the park would be small, monitored and located in an open field near the Berlin Myers Parkway where sports already are played.