Fort Mill Times

In surprise move, county proposes tax hike

The Lancaster County Council will consider approving a 3.5-mill tax increase at its meeting next week.

The decision made at Monday night's meeting came despite the council voting down a millage increase during budget meetings in July.

Indian Land representative Bryan Vaughn recommended the increase, specifying one mill to be budgeted to York Technical College's Kershaw Campus, one mill for USC Lancaster and one and a half mills for the sheriff's department.

County Administrator Steve Willis presented a similar plan to the council that included a 3.5-mill increase to fund USC Lancaster, York Technical College and expenses related to last week's fire at the county courthouse, including additional security, that will not be covered by insurance.

Vaughn amended that to include funding for the sheriff's department instead of paying for the courthouse expenses.

The sheriff's department needs additional manpower, Vaughn argued. The South Carolina Supreme Court has mandated that the sheriff's department patrol county buildings after hours, in light of the fires at the county's courthouse and solicitor's office. Additional funding could help offset those costs, Vaughn said.

The funds would be used for the salaries, training and equipment for new personnel.

"If we're going to dedicate millage to certain things, it needs to be to the right things," Vaughn said. "We've got an opportunity to fix wrongs and do it right."

Funding for USC Lancaster and York Technical College could help improve the county's unemployment rate by providing county residents with job training, Willis said.

"Sometimes you have to spend money to make things better," Willis said.

The council finalized its budget in July but can still make amendments, including a millage increase. A 3.5 mill tax increase means an increase of about $14 for a home with an assessed value of $100,000.

Councilman Wesley Grier was concerned about raising county taxes at a time when the county has a high unemployment rate - 10.1 percent - and is still reeling from other poor economic conditions.

"We're talking about the unemployment rate and then turn around and want to raise taxes," Grier said. "That's kind of like a two-edge sword."

The council will consider preliminary approval of the millage increase at a meeting scheduled for Monday, Aug. 18.