Why Is This Official Keeping Mum about $8.5 Million?

September 8, 2015

Inside Insight

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letter to Jeffcoat

IT WOULD SEEM LIKE GOOD NEWS.
YET FOR SOME REASON IT ISN’T.

On September 8th, the Lexington Town Council will vote on a new 2 percent tax on all prepared food in the town. The new tax will increase the tax on prepared food to 9 percent.

The primary argument for a new “hospitality” tax is that it is the only source of money to address Lexington’s notorious traffic problems. But a recently revealed letter suggests that this may not be true.

The town has held three public meetings where this issue has been discussed. At all three of these meetings, Councilman Todd Carnes, one of the chief proponents of the tax, has argued that there is no other source of money.

At all three of these meetings, Lexington County Council Chairman Johnny Jeffcoat was present.

Fortunately, Rep. Rick Quinn (R-Lexington) gave me a copy of a letter that state Department of Transportation addressed to Jeffcoat on July 9th.

The letter notified Jeffcoat that the county would be receiving, in addition to its normal disbursement from SCDOT of $4.1 million, an additional $8.5 million. That’s $8.5 million extra that the county was not expecting and couldn’t have had plans for.

Clearly, this is a possible source of money for roads! One argument to be made against the new tax for road improvements is that the roads slated to be improved don’t belong to the town. They belong to the state. It’s interesting, then, that the July 9th letter to Jeffcoat from SCDOT points out that the $8.5 millionmust be used only on state roads.

“The new legislation,” the letters says, “specifies CTCs shall utilize all the non-recurring funds for use on the state-owned secondary road system for paving, rehabilitating, resurfacing, and/or reconstruction, and bridge repair, replacement, or reconstruction. No funds from this allocation shall be used for any road, bridge, or highway that is not part of the state owned system.”

Seems like a perfect fit.

Yet for some reason Jeffcoat has kept the letter quiet. Apparently even some of his fellow city councilors didn’t know about it.  Once I disclosed that I had the letter, I immediately got a request for a copy from a member of the council.  This member apparently had not been given a copy by Jeffcoat.

Carnes certainly isn’t making it known either.  Not once has he mentioned the extra $8.5 million.  Nor has any other member of the council.

Why would Jeffcoat and the town council want to keep the letter a secret? Could it be because the town wants both the $8.5 million from SC DOT and the $16 million the new tax would raise?

At the last town council meeting on August 17th, one town resident specifically pointed out the fact that Lexington County may be getting extra money from SCDOT because he had information that Saluda County was receiving extra money.  Apparently he was not yet aware of the July 9th letter, though I’m sure Jeffcoat and members of town council were.

After those comments were made, not a single member of town council – including Jeffcoat, who was present – acknowledged what was said.  They simply ignored the comments.

Then, at the following public information meeting on August 24th, again Carnes emphasized his argument that there was no other source of money. Jeffcoat was present.  Still, no mention of the $8.5 million.

All this leads to a question: Why is the council withholding the existence of this letter from the public?