Editorial: Berkeley Voters Should Expand Their County’s Transportation Sales Tax | Editorials
Berkeley has been one of South Carolina’s fastest growing counties for years, and voters will soon decide whether to extend a 1% sales tax to try and keep pace with that growth with more investment. to modernize and maintain an increasingly busy road network. We urge them to do so for a number of reasons – and not just because the money will help widen some highways and ease traffic at some intersections, important as these works are.
The tax extension will also allow county officials to achieve two other important goals: create a larger pot to triple the amount of repairs and resurfacing of existing roads, and create the county’s premier revenue stream for the acquisition of parks and support for conservation work.
Berkeley ballots will feature two separate infrastructure questions, the first asking voters if they will approve a seven-year extension of the 1% sales tax to raise $587 million for highways, roads, streets, bridges and other transportation related projects, drainage facilities and green belt preservation projects. The second question asks voters if they support an $89 million bond issue, to be repaid by sales tax proceeds, to carry out these projects. Voters should vote yes for both.
Unlike Dorchester County, where a pending legal issue this year imposed a tighter timeline for identifying projects that would be funded if voters backed extending its 1% transportation sales tax, Berkeley County did an admirable job soliciting public input on specific transportation upgrades. that its residents most want to see happen. That’s probably why we’ve heard little public opposition to it.
As Berkeley supervisor Johnny Cribb puts it, “our slate of projects didn’t come from three staffers sitting down and making a list,” but rather was the result of broad public input, from the big public and elected officials, as well as engineering expertise. Mr. Cribb said the public doesn’t like vagueness, and that’s why Berkeley opted to allow the tax for shorter periods than allowed by law, returning more frequently to voters for an extension. Nobody likes a tax, but Berkeley voters first approved a transportation sales tax program in 2008 and overwhelmingly backed its expansion in 2014. “It’s hard to forecast infrastructure needs in 10 at 15,” he says, “but I can do a good job of predicting intersection problems seven years out.”
Berkeley’s approach contrasts with that of Charleston County, where the county council tried to divert hundreds of millions of dollars from its transportation sales tax to expand Interstate 526 – a controversial project that didn’t deliberately not presented to voters in 2016 and a project which, despite council advice about an unfortunate flip-flop, remains in limbo due to significantly rising costs.
Specific projects in Berkeley County will appear on the ballot, and they are included in an ordinance. They include upgrades to the intersection of U.S. Highways 52 and 176, a second phase of widening of U.S. Highway 176, improvements to Jedburg Road, expansion of North Cedar Street, improvements to Old Mount Holly Road, Cypress Gardens Road improvements, and US Highway 52 corridor improvements.
This sales tax extension will also differ by focusing more money, approximately 20%, on the maintenance of existing roads, including the resurfacing of United Drive, Bushy Park Road, Gravel Hill Road, SC Highway 45, Harristown Road and at least 200 miles of local streets within. municipalities, as well as the paving of some of the 200 miles of dirt roads. Cribb says the expanded commitment to resurfacing work was included to address a common comment county officials have heard: “Why do you want to widen roads and build new roads when you can’t take care of the ones you have?”
Importantly, 10% of sales tax revenue, or $58.7 million, would be dedicated to greenbelt initiatives, such as “purchasing conservation properties, purchasing easements of conservation, the creation of passive green spaces, the creation of active green spaces, the protection of natural resources, the protection of agricultural or heritage landscapes, and the protection of scenic corridors.” The idea is to replicate the success that Charleston County has had with its green belt program; if voters agree, an advisory group would be formed to review possible projects and recommend deals to the county board.
It would create the county’s first source of revenue dedicated to conservation work, and it couldn’t come at a more critical time, as Berkeley increasingly evolves from a rural county to a suburban county. And while Berkeley already has vast lands under protection, most obviously a wide swath of the Francis Marion National Forest, suburban growth continues to push there and threaten other important rural locations, including the historic Cooper District. River. Greenbelt money could also help create new regional parks that would serve the county’s growing population.
The county’s transportation sales and use tax is one of two sales tax issues on Berkeley County ballots this fall. The Berkeley County School District is also asking voters to approve a new 1% sales tax that would remain in effect for seven years and help pay for the construction of three new schools, the renovation of four existing schools and the upgrading of facilities. sports facilities at eight schools.
We realize that’s a lot, especially in this time of economic uncertainty, but Berkeley voters should expand the transportation sales tax to keep up with county growth; to reaffirm the county’s responsible management of this fiscal program thus far; and to acknowledge the thoughtful and publicly influenced list of projects the money would be spent on.