Fort Mill Times

Penny tax hike debated

The Lancaster County Council may ask voters to approve a 1-cent sales tax increase to fund capital projects.

At a meeting Monday night, the council approved creating a capital projects sales tax commission that is required by state law to detail and prioritize the capital projects that would be funded by the penny sales tax increase.

The makeup of the commission's members are also determined by state law, and will include three representatives chosen by the county's municipalities: two from the City of Lancaster and one from Heath Springs or Kershaw, and three nominated by the council.

The commission may not properly represent the voters, Councilman Bryan Vaughn, who represents Indian Land, complained.

"Thirty percent of the county population is in District One and theoretically they could be left out of representation," Vaughn said. "If we're going to set it up, it needs to be a cross section of the county."

The council's top priority is funding construction of a new courthouse. A new courthouse will cost approximately $25 million, said County Administrator Steve Willis. The capital projects sales tax would generate approximately $34 million or more, allowing room for additional capital projects determined by the commission to be funded.

Although a new courthouse is the council's priority, there is no assurance the commission will include it on a list of capital projects. The council cannot change the capital needs suggested by the commission or the priority. Once the commission makes a recommendation, the council only has the authority to approve or deny the proposal. Approving the proposal would send the capital projects sales tax question to the voters.

If funding a courthouse is Lancaster County's objective, the best method may not be a sales tax hike, Vaughn said. Business leaders are likely to be against the increase because it would bring Lancaster County's sales tax to 8 cents, a penny higher than York County's sales tax and higher than Mecklenburg County's.

"People will spend their dollars outside the county," Vaughn said. "It'll be cheaper to do business in Mecklenburg or York County."

Another capital needs project that has been discussed by the council is an Indian Land service center with satellite county offices.