Looking at an imperfect option, York County Council approved the next Pennies for Progress campaign.
York County voters will now decide Nov. 7 whether to continue a 1-cent sales tax for seven years, with an estimated $277.92 million generated for use on 20 projects throughout the county. One of the projects is road resurfacing, which involves 40 sites.
The new campaign comes with an understanding that the past three Pennies efforts brought funding overruns and related problems, but also miles of road that wouldn’t be on the ground in York County without them.
“York County is better because of Pennies,” said Councilman William “Bump” Roddey. “We are the leader when it comes to these projects.”
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The first Pennies for Progress passed in 1997, followed by campaigns in 2003 and 2011.
York County was the first in South Carolina to try something like Pennies, which in years since moved from consultants to in-house management. County leaders reached for answers to skyrocketing costs and missed deadlines.
Paul Anderko of Rock Hill and Billy Hagner of Lake Wylie served on a citizen review committee that made recommendations to improve the program. Anderko said as cost estimates missed with past projects, one project would take from another, until many roads couldn’t be done. He said he would want assurance the same won’t happen again before supporting Pennies again.
“Put something in there that they can’t steal,” Anderko said.
Hagner said the county made several improvements in the coming campaign, but the Pennies track record “hasn’t been very good at all.” Yet, he said, everyone in York County has benefited.
Hagner works at the Pole Branch precinct in Lake Wylie on vote days. During recent elections, he reminded voters of another in November.
Improvements at Pole Branch Road was on the Pennies list two campaign ago, but construction hasn’t begun. Hagner is concerned such delays could generate opposition.
“Most of the people in the Pole Branch area wonder, well why in the world should I vote for Pennies 4, when we have been voting time and time again for Pole Branch Road to get completed and we haven’t seen any results yet,” he said.
Jerry Helms of Lake Wylie chaired the citizen group that put the Pennies 4 list together. It was his third time in that role. He agrees past campaigns had issues, but said the county is learning from each of them.
“We did put the carryover projects at the top, like we promised,” Helms said. “We did work on roads for maintenance. We did it in a logical, systematic way by asking every member of every community from Sharon to York to Hickory Grove to Clover to Lake Wylie — all around — to give us their lists.”
Without Pennies for Progress, Helms said, municipalities in the county would have to fight for whatever remaining funding sources they could find. The Pennies 4 list will help with economic development and public safety, he said.
“You can’t change the past,” Helms said. “All you can do is learn from the past to work in the present, to make the future better.”
Still, Roddey said the county can’t guarantee the new list of roads will be complete as promised. He voted for Pennies 4 anyway.
“I don’t fully anticipate hitting every single project on the list, because we have yet to do it since ’97,” Roddey said. “Does this mean we shouldn’t do it? No it doesn’t, because we know there are some good projects we’re going to be able to get to.”
Councilman Robert Winkler said the latest campaign is “the best Pennies referendum so far” in terms of cost estimates and viability.
Councilwoman Allison Love said a shoot-for-the-moon mentality can be “what gets you as far along as you do get.” She looks at the roads that have been completed.
“If there’s anybody in District 2 that wants to sit down and have a conversation over why they feel like they would not vote for Pennies over Pole Branch Road or something that hasn’t gotten done quite fast enough for them, I’d be happy to,” Love said.
Chairman Britt Blackwell, too, sees both sides. He says Pennies 4 has the “best control net we’ve had” for keeping overruns at bay. But he also knows construction prices have gone up 40 percent in six months.
“My biggest frustration in my seven years on the council has been road costs,” Blackwell said. “It’s always been just very disheartening to me, how it’s out of control.”
While he continues to support Pennies, Blackwell said concerns from residents and Council about higher-than-expected costs or project delays are serious.
“The warnings are needed and are true, and we need to be very cognizant of doing everything we can,” he said.