York County’s plan to borrow nearly $90 million for public building improvements and issue a small tax increase has earned support from an unlikely group of political observers.
The leaders of GPS Conservatives for Action – a local political action committee generally opposed to tax increases and higher government debt – said Thursday they’re asking York County residents to vote “yes” in a Nov. 3 bond referendum. County officials say the money is needed to pay for large, and in most cases, overdue facility upgrades and new construction.
The main projects are:
▪ A new estimated $20.7 million county Family Court building in Rock Hill
▪ Millions of dollars of renovations to government offices located on Heckle Boulevard in Rock Hill, and courtroom and sheriff’s office located in York
▪ A new recycling center and other public works facility upgrades totaling more than $22 million
▪ Nearly $2.7 million to improve existing magistrate court offices in Fort Mill and Clover
If approved, York County would raise taxes to pay back the debt. The increase on an average $100,000 home would be $2.30 monthly.
Proponents of the borrowing plan point to security concerns in county courtrooms, crowding and limited storage space at various government offices, and the ongoing struggle to keep pace with York County’s growing population. The proposed improvements are largely located in buildings where residents go for direct county services.
S.C. law only requires a bond referendum if York County wants to borrow more than 8% of the assessed value of property in its tax base. Without approval from voters, county officials could borrow at least $40 million.
Paul Anderko, of GPS Conservatives, said many people in his organization understand the need for major upgrades, which necessitates major borrowing and spending. Still, he said, the group spent months before deciding to support the Nov. 3 bond referendum.
Some people still aren’t convinced, Anderko said, but he added that most in his group don’t want the county to pursue separate building projects by using cash reserves or savings without having to put the issue to a vote.
Many GPS Conservative members believe York County leaders, including past York County Council members, should have addressed capital improvement needs years ago, Anderko said. Even county officials have acknowledged York County is nearly 15 years behind its building needs.
York County officials tried in 2006 to earn voter approval on a $75 million bond referendum that would have addressed many facility problems listed on the current proposal. Residents voted down the plan by nearly a 2-1 margin.
The earlier bond referendum included renovation costs for the county courthouse in downtown York. That project has since been funded without new debt.
Since then, county leaders have improved the way they track facility needs. An outside consultant now manages project progress, evaluates current facilities and helps keep costs within budget.
One factor that delayed the county’s bond referendum effort last year was public reaction to the possibility of an eastern York County justice center that would include a police booking facility and temporary holding jail cells. Sheriff Bruce Bryant has stressed the need for an office located somewhere around Rock Hill, Fort Mill or Tega Cay, where nearly one-third of his deputies make arrests.
That facility is not included in the list of projects proposed in the Nov. 3 bond referendum.
Previously, York County has borrowed money to pay for renovations at the Moss Justice Detention Center in York, where the sheriff’s office, the county prison, and criminal courts are housed. That money was borrowed without a bond referendum.
State law only requires a bond referendum if a county or city is borrowing more than 8 percent of the assessed value of property in its tax base. Without approval from voters, York County officials could vote to borrow at least $40 million for capital projects.
Holding leaders ‘accountable’
Anderko says it’s clear York County needs to act in a big way to meet its facility needs.
Before throwing support behind the bond referendum, Anderko and other GPS Conservative members toured some of the buildings and sites targeted for investments under the borrowing plan. The walk-through was “eye-opening,” Anderko said, as he saw for himself what many have called antiquated facilities, cramped quarters for government workers, and security flaws in old buildings.
York County’s recycling center, especially, was a “mind-boggling” run-down site, Anderko said.
The tour convinced Anderko of the need for improvements, he said, but also reignited his frustration that York County leaders haven’t acted sooner, calling it an “unacceptable failure.”
Now, Anderko says he and others plan to watch the county’s progress closely if voters approve the bond referendum. The group intends to ask for quarterly project updates, he said, and keep in contact with York County’s manager and elected officials on the County Council.
If project costs exceed budgets or miss deadlines, Anderko said the GPS Conservatives intend to hold the council “accountable come Election Day.”
The Herald’s Don Worthington and Bristow Marchant contributed