Blue Laws changes, tax installment plan advance at County Council session

Citizens Tonya Flowers (bottom) and John Smithey (top) addressed Darlington County Council members regarding the location of a communications tower near their home. Photos by Samantha Lyles

By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer,

Darlington County Council held first reading for fiscal year 2019/20 budgets at their April 1 meeting, and advanced measures to alter the county’s Blue Laws and establish installment payments for property taxes.

Council held a public hearing and second reading for Ordinance 19-01, which would give Darlington County citizens the option to pay their taxes on real property through installments.

The payments would be for taxes due the following year, and would be based on estimates drawn from total property tax due the previous year. Credits and adjustments reflecting any reduction or increase in value would be applied by the county assessor.

The ordinance proposes a schedule of six payments (each equal to 16 and 2/3 percent of the total estimated tax) due on Feb. 15, April 15, June 15, Aug. 15 and Oct. 15, with the remaining balance due on or before Jan. 15 of the following taxable year.

If a taxpayer elects to make installment payments and fails to remit them in a timely manner, the county can refuse to accept installments and bill them for the entire balance due.

Any taxpayer wishing to pay via the installment plan must notify the county treasurer in writing between Dec. 1 and Jan. 15.

No one spoke during the public hearing for this ordinance, and Council approved the measure without objection.

A public hearing (also with no citizen comments) and second reading was held for Ordinance 19-02, which would “indefinitely suspend Sunday work prohibitions” and allow businesses located in unincorporated areas of the county to open prior to 1:30 p.m.

The statewide Sunday business restrictions, commonly referred to as “Blue Laws,” allow municipalities and counties to specifically opt out by passing locally applied regulations. During a Feb. 18 work session, council member Bobby Kilgo proposed the county take action to allow county businesses to compete with stores in Hartsville and Darlington, where businesses are already allowed to open early on Sundays.

The ordinance includes language prohibiting employers from discriminating against those who choose to reserve Sundays or Saturdays as a day of worship. Council unanimously approved second reading.

Council also held a public hearing and second reading for Ordinance 19-03, allowing the Darlington County Library System to accept an additional $5,800 in state lottery funds. The ordinance states that the Library System could use these funds to upgrade public computers at the Darlington branch, which are about five years old. The ordinance cleared second reading by unanimous vote.

During citizens’ comments, some residents voiced concerns over the possible location of a communications tower in their community. The Darlington County Planning Commission had approved an application from American Tower (Benton Brothers) to build a tower at 1631 Society Hill Road, but citizens filed an appeal citing health concerns.

Some of these citizens, including Tonya Flowers, Diane Gamble Smith and John Smithey, noted that the tower’s proposed location was – for them – too close for comfort. Smithey said the tower would be just 450 feet from his house, and wondered if it couldn’t be relocated to a more remote location on the Benton family’s land. Flowers added that her husband has serious health issues and worried whether living so close to a high-powered communications structure could hurt his condition.

When time came to approve or rescind the construction permit, council member Le Flowers moved to carry over a final decision on this matter pending review by a neutral referee who would hear arguments from the applicant and from the citizens who appealed the tower’s location. Council gave county administrator Charles Stewart authority to appoint the referee. Involved parties will be notified as to the date and time of the hearing.

Author: Rachel Howell

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