Council approves referendum for new courthouse

By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer,

At their regular monthly meeting held Monday, July 2, Darlington County Council granted final approval for the Capital Project Sales Tax (CPST) referendum to be placed on voter ballots this fall.

By a vote of 6 to 1, Council approved final reading of Ordinance 18-07, finalizing language for the 1-percent sales tax referendum, which will appear on ballots at the November 6 general election. If approved by a majority of county voters, this new penny sales tax will apply to all retail purchases throughout Darlington County for a period of four years.

The tax is expected to yield approximately $5 million each year, and the resulting $20 million in revenue would be used to finance construction of a new county courthouse and – possibly – new administration offices.

The estimated cost of building a new judicial center is $10.75 million, and a new administration building could cost $4.83 million. The cost of tearing down the current courthouse and administration building (constructed in 1965) is estimated at $3.36 million, not including permits and landfill fees. The total cost for all three projects is estimated at $18.94 million.

Currently, South Carolina’s base sales tax is 6 percent, and Darlington County tacks on a one-percent Local Option Sales Tax (which the county and municipalities use for taxpayer relief), and another one percent for the Darlington County School District (renewed by voter referendum in November of 2016). Adding another penny would bring Darlington County’s de facto sales tax to 9 cents per dollar.

Drafted with supervision from bond attorney Ben Zeigler of Haynesworth Sinkler Boyd and approved in May by the Darlington County CPST Commission, the ballot question reads as follows:

“Must a special one percent sales and use tax be imposed in Darlington County for not more than 4 years to raise $20,000,000.00 for the acquisition (including, if necessary, the acquisition of real property), constructing, furnishing, and equipping a new Darlington County Judicial Center and Darlington County Administration Building, either as a single facility or two facilities, and either by new construction in whole or in part, or renovation of existing facilities in whole or in part?

And must Darlington County Council be authorized to issue not exceeding $20,000,000.00 principal amount of general obligation bonds of Darlington County, provided that the proceeds of such bonds shall be applied to defray the costs of the foregoing purposes, plus issuance costs, and provided further that in the event the sales and use tax to be imposed as stated herein is inadequate for the payment of such bonds, such bonds shall be payable from an ad valorem tax imposed on all taxable property in Darlington County?”

If voters are in favor of levying the penny tax to build a new courthouse, they will vote “Yes” on the ballot question. Those opposed will vote “No” and the majority will set the county’s course of action.

Voting down the referendum would not necessarily cause the county to abandon the courthouse project, but other financing options could bring significant millage increases which would place the tax burden on local property owners rather than spreading it among all shoppers (including tourists) who spend money in Darlington County.

The ordinance passed by a vote of 6 to 1. Council member David Coker voted against, and Council member Mozella “Pennie” Nicholson was not present.

Also at this meeting, Council passed final reading of Ordinance 18-06, which increases compensation for members of Darlington County Council. The pay scale is now as follows: members who were earning $7,000 per year will now receive $13,000; the vice chair previously earned $7,500 and will now receive $13,000 per year; the chair previously earned $8,200 per year and will now receive $14,000 per year.

Council member Lewis Brown commented on the pay raise at the end of the meeting. He noted that Darlington County Council has not voted itself a pay increase since 1991, and was in the bottom three counties in South Carolina in terms of compensation for county elected officials.

“The only two counties that paid less than Darlington County were Allendale and Fairfield County, and both of those have a population of about 15,000 people. Darlington is the 25th largest of 46 counties in South Carolina,” said Brown, adding that better compensation will help attract strong candidates for public office.

Only Councilman Coker voted against the pay raise.

Author: Rachel Howell

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