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Potential pot of cash has leaders swimming with ideas

011012_salestax_salestax_jpgCity and county officials are churning ideas together for projects they hope Colleton voters will pay for in a special new 1-percent sales tax. The tax will be on the general election ballot in November for voters to decide on. The 1-percent tax is supposed to last about eight years, and is expected to generate about $4 million annually. The ordinance is also meant to help cut property taxes for Colleton residents. Neighboring Dorchester County is proposing the exact same thing to its voters.

In preparing for this upcoming question for voters, Walterboro City Council and Colleton County Council met in a special joint-session on Tuesday. The closed-door session resulted in a special commission being created. The commission consists of two appointees to represent the city, and three from the county. Charles Lucas and David Evans will represent the city on this commission. Joseph Hamilton, Lawton Huggins and Grahame Holmes will represent the county. If the voters say “yes” in November, these five people will decide which projects will be funded with the potential money coming in from the sales tax.

City and county leaders will “pitch” their project ideas to this commission for consideration, according to county council Chairman Phillip Taylor. Municipalities across the county – including Edisto Beach, Lodge and Cottageville – will also tell their ideas to the commission. “This is a countywide effort, and it focuses on county needs,” said Taylor. “We, as a County Council, have not yet decided on the fullest priorities for the county. We are trying to nail that down now.”

According to Taylor, a new sheriff’s office complex is a “pressing need.” “They are, in effect, homeless,” Taylor of the Colleton County Sheriff’s Office said. The sheriff’s office has been living in the Colleton Center for the last seven years: it was meant to be a tentative solution to overcrowding, with the Colleton Center slated to be home for a maximum of 18 months. That was more than seven years ago. But Taylor says the county is also in need of upgrading its landfill. “That’s a need for the entire county, too,” he said. “Whether or not this special tax will even take care of one specific need, or several, is yet to be seen,” he said. “That’s the commission’s job, to look at all of the ideas and make its recommendations to the city and to the county.”

If the voters say yes to this tax, Taylor says he wants to combine the potential funds with grants to get even more money flowing into the county. “We can leverage these dollars with grant funds for a bigger impact,” he said.

City Manager Jeff Lord says the city is “not at the point of identifying any potential projects.” But the commission is working on a tight timeline, with the November election just one month away. The commission held its inaugural meeting Tuesday night, with commission members having a “tighter” focus on any project ideas, said Taylor. Though this appears to be the first time the city and the county have worked together on a joint project, Taylor says the two groups have been coming together many times recently, citing a joint effort in revitalizing the airport. “Some things have been fragmented over the years, but the city and the county are working well together,” he said, “and I hope to see the county work with all of our municipalities on joint projects.” Taylor says he wants the county council to reach out to other towns in Colleton County, and offer joint efforts in those parts of the county, as well. “Everybody really wants the same thing – a good, safe place to grow, live and play,” he said.

The commission has no set schedule as to when it will meet, and it is not yet known if any deadlines will be given to municipalities who want to submit project ideas for the potential pot of county cash.

Heather Walters (1494 Posts)