County argues that town’s suit for more money was 7 years late
Giving the town of Andrews the $2.7 million it needs to finish building a municipal complex would go against the will of Georgetown County voters, according to the county’s assistant attorney.
The town claims it’s County County that has ignored the voters’ wishes.
“If someone was to look at this thing the way it’s supposed to, they would see that council made several deliberate attempts to not fund this thing,” Mayor Frank McClary said following a hearing in Circuit Court last week. “We put a lot of thought into this and no one would listen to us. They wouldn’t follow their own rules.”
The town filed suit in Circuit Court in August seeking an order requiring the county to fully fund the $5.7 million project.
The project was part of a 1-cent capital projects sales tax referendum with $28.2 million in projects approved by voters in 2014. The ballot listed $1.5 million for an “Andrews Fire/Police Complex.”
Seven years later the town is calling the project a “municipal complex.”
The town asked Judge Steven DeBerry to grant summary judgement in its suit. The county asked him to dismiss the suit.
Tommy Morgan, the assistant county attorney, told the judge that the town is playing “loosey goosey” with the voters who approved the referendum.
“They’re asking the court to go against the very will of the voters,” Morgan added. “We’re here because words have meaning.”
Town Attorney Eleazer Carter said whether you call it an “Andrews Fire/Police Complex” or a “municipal complex,” it’s the same thing.
“A building is a building,” Carter said.
Circuit Court Judge Steven DeBerry asked Morgan what changed about the project other than the name.
Morgan said council chambers and a mayor’s office were added.
DeBerry asked Carter if the scope of the project had changed.
“It’s still the building,” Carter said, no matter what the town decides to put inside.
“Nothing increased,” McClary said after the hearing. “They’re trying to argue saying that we’ve added additional departments. It’s the same building that’s been there forever.”
The sales tax, which expired at the end of April in 2019, actually raised $40.7 million. Another $6 million allocated for dredging the Winyah Bay shipping channel became available when that project’s overall cost more than doubled and it was canceled.
This spring, each County Council member was given $1 million of the surplus to allocate to additional capital projects.
Neither Raymond Newton nor Everett Carolina, whose council districts include parts of Andrews, chose to give any money for the municipal complex.
“I’ve been to one meeting and no one would talk to me,” McClary said. “No one would look at this thing in a bigger scope.”
McClary, who was not mayor when the referendum was approved by voters, said he doesn’t understand how there can be a surplus if the county has not completed the 104 road projects that were included in the referendum.
“It’s not just that they have not funded the Andrews project, they have violated the law in many instances,” McClary said.
He said $1.5 million was never enough to build the 11,558-square-foot complex. Sel Hemingway, who was county administrator at the time, came up with that price tag, they added.
Hemingway has previously said the $1.5 million was partial funding and the town was expected to find matching funds. When the matching funds didn’t materialize, the county allocated an additional $1.5 million from the sales tax.
After the town hired a design-build firm, GMK Associates of Columbia, McClary told the county in 2019 that the “guaranteed maximum price” was actually $5.7 million, including $1.6 million to clear the site and do an environmental cleanup.
McClary said the numbers in the referendum were estimates that didn’t include any prep work.
Morgan told the court that under state law the town had 30 days to challenge any part of the referendum after County Council approved it in December 2014. Even if a judge disagrees with that, under the statute of limitations, the town had 30 days to appeal when council accepted the results of the referendum in spring of 2020, and 30 days to appeal when council approved the spending of the surplus in spring of 2021.
The municipal complex is being built behind the current town facility, a block north of Main Street. It should be done in about three months, McClary said.
If DeBerry rules against the town, McClary said the town will appeal. It will also start looking elsewhere for the $2.7 million, he said. The town’s annual budget is $3.5 million.
“We’re going to get this building,” McClary said. “The town deserves it.”