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Sales tax: Excess revenue will help complete capital improvement plan

By Charles Swenson

A capital projects sales tax adopted by Georgetown County voters in 2014 is expected to produce a $16 million surplus by the time it expires in 2019. That money will be rolled into the final phase of a capital improvement plan adopted 12 years ago, according to a plan now under review by County Council.

The surplus includes $6 million earmarked as a local match for dredging the shipping channel to the port of Georgetown. That was the top priority in the sales tax proposal, but is now considered unlikely as cost estimates for the dredging soared and shipping volume declined.

The surplus from the sales tax and $12.6 million in other revenue would be combined to extend the current capital improvement plan through June 2021. There are nearly $20 million worth of projects still to complete in the plan that was adopted by the county following a long-range planning process known as Visions. Those include an $8 million main library in Georgetown, outdoor pools at four regional recreation centers and the extension of Parkersville Road from Baskervill Drive to Gilman Place to provide local traffic with an alternative to Highway 17.

And county staff have come up with $16.7 million worth of new projects, including $5.8 million to buy land for economic development efforts, $3.4 million for new ballfields at Waccamaw Elementary School and $1.5 million for a new manufacturing center at Horry-Georgetown Technical College.

The list of potential projects is about $10 million more than the revenue available. Council members went through the list to see which projects may no longer be timely. They found two: $100,000 to promote the Francis Marion Trail, a historical tourism initiative no longer supported by the state, and $100,000 for work at Morgan Park in Georgetown, which is no longer a goal for the city.

Another $100,000 for signs marking the main “gateways” to the county survived scrutiny, although Administrator Sel Hemingway noted that the entrances from Horry County on Highway 17 are so cluttered it would be hard to spot another sign. So did $100,000 to create signs for county facilities.

“I say we get rid of it,” Council Member John Thomas said. “The fact that we can’t articulate what the purpose of the project is is a good indicator that we don’t need it.”

He proposed cutting $31,000 for improvements at Wachesaw Park because those improvements haven’t been identified. “It’s not utilized enough to warrant additional expenditures,” Thomas said. He suggested applying that concept to other projects, such as Eight Oaks Park on Highway 521 outside Georgetown.

Eight Oaks is used to attract baseball and softball tournaments to the county. Another $1.2 million in ballfields is proposed. It’s also the site of one of the outdoor pools, but Hemingway said the county would like to move that pool to the Beck Center in Georgetown where it is closer to likely users.

No other cuts were proposed.

And there is one other major project that doesn’t have a price tag yet: beach nourishment. A council committee met last month with Tim Kana, principal in Coastal Science and Engineering, which developed nourishment plans for Pawleys Island and DeBordieu. Any work done by Georgetown County would likely focus on Garden City, Thomas said.

That may have to wait for another round of capital planning. Once the council revises its current list of projects, Hemingway proposed starting a new Visions process. That could lead to another capital sales tax referendum in 2020. The county could renew the sales tax in 2018, but it would have to apply the $16 million surplus of any projects on that list.

If the county doesn’t renew the sales tax, the excess funds can be allocated by a vote of County Council.

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