Newberry Officials Say Penny Tax Vital

October 27, 2010

Investigative Reports

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The NerveIn less than a week, Newberry County residents will vote yea or nay on a 1-cent sales tax to raise money to fund capital projects.

Voters twice previously approved penny sales tax referendums, in 1998 and 2004. The upcoming vote for the $17.5 million capital project sales tax referendum will take place on Tuesday.

“This is a hugely important issue,” Newberry County Administrator Wayne Adams said.

Among items that would be funded by the sales tax is a new campus for Piedmont Technical College. If approved, the campus would be moved to an abandoned 70,000-square-foot Wal-Mart building on Wilson Street, which would enable the technical school to offer more courses and create a jobs-training lab.

“Employers come in here and a lot of time they need workers with specific training,” Adams said. “By moving the campus to a bigger space, we’ll be able to adapt it to many different kinds of uses.”

Newberry’s Piedmont Tech campus has already surpassed 600 students, so it’s nearing capacity, he added.

If approved, the penny sales tax would be funded through a bond, which will let all of the projects begin at the same time.

The ballot will give the county the authorization to issue bonds for the project not to exceed $15.625 million. An additional $2 million will be funded through interest on bond revenues and taxes, and money left over from other projects.

The Newberry County projects that would be constructed if the measure passes are:

  • A new Piedmont Technical College campus;
  • Water and sewer improvements throughout the county;
  • Renovations to the Whitmire town annex;
  • Renovations to the Newberry Opera house;
  • A trail head in Little Mountain;
  • Expansion of the Council on Aging Senior Center;
  • Renovations to the old Prosperity railroad depot;
  • Improvements to the Mid-Carolina Commerce Park; and
  • Three new fire substations.

Moving the Piedmont Tech building into the vacant Wal-Mart would enable the county to also move the sheriff’s office into the old Piedmont Tech site, rather than forcing the county to build a new structure for the sheriff’s office, Adams said.The 1-cent sales tax applies to the same items subject to the state’s general sales tax. It does not apply to certain items on which sales taxes are otherwise limited, including the sale of automobiles and gasoline. Nor would it apply to groceries.

Projects were determined by a commission comprised of six appointed citizens who met over the course of 10 months. It developed criterion for project submissions and ranked projects based on community needs.

If the referendum passes, the 1-cent tax will run until April 30, 2017, unless Newberry County citizens vote in a general election to continue it.

According to county information, cost overruns for sales tax projects will require another source of revenue, or officials may request the use of available leftover funds from sales tax revenue after all other balloted projects have been completed.

Officials explained that the penny sales tax would not be a new tax, but a continuation of the 1-cent sales tax that is already in effect and has been since 1999.

Proponents argue that the sales tax revenue would not come exclusively from Newberry County residents as visitors who make purchases here will pay it, too. In addition, everyone who makes purchases, whether they own property or not, will pay the tax.

“Without revenue from the sales tax, these projects would require increased taxes and/or user fees, or they would not be built at all,” according to county information.

Reach Dietrich at (803) 779-5022, ext. 110, or kevin@thenerve.org.