On Nov. 4, voters stepped into booths and up to touch screens to decide the fate of their local and state politicians. Also on ballets nationwide were various referendums calling for communities to reject or accept a range of changes, from area-wide stress relief initiatives in Colorado to a new rail system in Houston.
In the Southeast, many proposals requested more money for infrastructure –– utilities, roads and schools.
’Pennies for Progress’
In York County, SC, voters approved a referendum to extend the county’s 1-cent sales tax program by an overwhelming margin.
Seventy-three percent of voters marked “yes” to renew the tax, which originally passed in 1997. The purpose of the tax is to generate funds for roadway improvements throughout the county, and seven years ago the goal was to raise nearly $100 million through 2004.
Beginning around June of next year, when the original tax expires, the renewed tax is expected to bring in approximately $173 million over the next seven years. The money is being earmarked for 25 county projects.
Since 1997, a number of major road projects have been successfully completed, are under construction or are in the design phase as a result of the tax:
• Road improvements are complete on S.C. Highway 5 East, from Montgomery Drive to Meadow Lakes Drive to Cherry Road;
• Road improvements are complete on Herlong Avenue to India Hook Road, including the widening of India Hook to three lanes;
• Crews are constructing multiple lanes on S.C. 160 from I-77 to west of Pleasant Road to Gold Hill Road;
• Fort Mill Northern and S.C. Highway 5 bypasses, improvements to S.C. highways 274, 72 and 901; and multilaning Saluda, Ebenezer and Cherry Road are in the design phases.
Leading up the vote, many residents of the county did not favor the tax. But prior to the vote, members of the group ’Pennies for Progress’ staged presentations on roadways that are being widened because of the 1997 tax.
Carolina Schools Get a Boost
In Berkeley County, SC, $228 million in bonds was approved to build two schools and renovate three more by issuing “installment revenue” bonds. The new financing method will allow the school district to build an elementary-middle school on Daniel Island and a high school in Goose Creek and to renovate Berkeley, Sedgefield and College Park middle schools without increasing taxes, said Brantley Thomas, the district’s executive director of financial services.
Also in South Carolina, the Darlington County School District’s $48 million school facilities bond program referendum passed with overwhelming support.
In Durham, NC, four county bond referenda sailed to approval, with nearly four out of five voters saying “yes” to $105.3 million for school construction.
Brevard County, FL, Holds Onto Its Pennies
In Florida, Brevard County voters rejected in large numbers a 1-cent local-option tax that would have raised $1.3 billion over the next 20 years for new schools, better roads and hundreds of other projects. The funds would have gone to the county, its 15 cities and the Brevard County School District.
The Sun-Sentinel reported that approximately 30 percent of the county’s voters showed up at the polls and 65 percent of them turned down the proposed tax. The defeat came almost one month after Orange County voters rejected “Mobility 20/20,” a half-cent sales tax that was to go toward road, rail, sidewalk and bike path projects.
Brevard County is alone in Central Florida in that it does not have a local-option surtax.
SPLOST Falls Down in GA Polls
A majority of Rockdale County, GA, voters rejected the 1-percent special-option sales tax (SPLOST), failing to extend the 1999 SPLOST, which ends on March 31, 2004.
Citizens Against Tax Spending (CATS) forcefully campaigned against the tax, raising money, displaying yard signs and speaking with community members.
Had it been approved, the SPLOST would have raised $82.2 million, of which $67 million would have gone to transportation projects. Many county projects may now have to be pushed back.
The next time a tax in Rockdale County will come before voters is November 2004.