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1% Sales Tax Committee Holds Public Hearing

web posted January 9, 2014

EDGEFIELD The Edgefield County 1% Sales Tax Commission held a public hearing Wednesday night to receive public input on possible projects that could be funded by the sales tax if approved by voters. Three of the first four speakers represented non-profits such as the Edgefield Historical Society, Edgefield Civic League and the Edgefield Cemetery Society. It was later clarified that non-governmental non-profits were not eligible for funding.

Bobby Allen, assistant fire chief of Westside Fire Department, spoke on behalf of Westside and Merriwether Fire Departments He had a list of three items including a training center with a "burn house" and other "hands on" training with real fire to aid in the training of local volunteers firefighters who have to go out of town for such training. Plans have already been drawn for the project and it is estimated to cost $750,000.

The two other projects, which did not include a funding level, were additional substations to have a fire station within five miles of the coverage areas that would lower insurance cost for residents tremendously and two repeater tower sights in Merriwether and Westside to better improve radio communications.

Edgefield County Hospital CEO Brandon Clary stated he could come up with a laundry list of projects involving healthcare including remodeling patient rooms at the hospital. However, the item he wanted on the "front burner" through the committee was placing a medical facility in the Merriwether area. Mr. Clary said that to get the facility up and running would cost a minimum of $250,000 if they were able to lease and existing structure.

Mr. Clary said that he and Edgefield County Vice-chair Genia Blackwell (R-Merriwether) have already been working on the project and will be looking at locations next week. Blackwell pitched the idea earlier last year and the project is planned to move forward and the sales tax funding could make it happen faster. "We've got Edgefield, Johnston and Trenton pretty well covered," Clary said. Adding a facility in Merriwether would help the hospital serve the entire county.

Roger LeDuc, town administrator for Edgefield and Trenton, spoke on behalf of the Town of Trenton requesting $70,000 to expand the fire station in Trenton to accommodate additional fire trucks. Assistant Chief Allen spoke up asking if the Trenton Fire Department would consider building a substation somewhere between Trenton and Johnston to help those residents lower their ISO rating and therefore their fire insurance premiums. LeDuc stated that would be possible as the request would be for the funds, and not location specific.

Edgefield Daily owner Roy Blackwell spoke briefly offering advice rather than projects. He stated that the committee having to estimate costs on projects within the next two months was unfair to the committee members. He suggested the committee study possible projects for the next two years and come up with a viable plan for the 2016 general elections. He gave the example of the Sweetwater Community Center which was donated to the county over a year and a half ago. The project has been moving forward, but after nearly two years the county still does not know who much the project is going to cost due to studies, engineering, and other requirements.   

Edgefield Mayor Ken Durham spoke up stating he agreed that an April 1 deadline was not feasible for the town to come up with a list and costs for projects in such a short time frame. He also asked what would happen if the town was to estimate a cost and it came up short of the actual cost and asked if the town would then be responsible for the additional funds.

If the project cost exceed the estimate the town would have to provide the additional funding or the project would be cut from the list and the collection of taxes would be shortened by that amount.

Mr. Clary also spoke in support of a longer time frame for the process, reminding those present that ObamaCare was forced through without proper vetting and the problems associated to the bill are still being discovered.

Local businessman John Pettigrew Jr. spoke and also offered advice. His suggestion was for the committee to weigh the projects they consider on whether or not they actually do something to improve the local economy and jobs. "The economy in Edgefield County is going down," Pettigrew said. The medical center in Merriwether would create new jobs, and Pettigrew said that he hoped other projects could be directed in a similar fashion.

Another topic that was discussed was how the sales tax money would be distributed between the county and the towns. Mayor Durham wanted to know if there was a formula as to how the money would be distributed. The committee had no answer and Edgefield County Administrator Lynn Strom said that the committee is tasked to review the suggested projects and their costs and then submit their list to the county council. 

Durham stated it was hard for the town to create a list if they did not know how much money would possibly be available for projects. Mr. Clary and Mr. LeDuc agreed. 

Administrator Strom said she would contact the Budget and Control Board to get a possible formula, however, most counties did not use a formula and went by a list of specific projects in order to sell the tax to the voters.

County Councilwoman Betty Butler was at the meeting and spoke at the end thanking the members of the committee for giving up their time to serve in their positions.

Before ending the meeting, the committee laid out the next three meetings, all of which will be held at the county council chambers at 6 pm on January 28, February 11 and the 25th. The meeting on February 25 will be a work session for the committee to review all of the requests submitted so far.

A full list of the projects submitted, which were not discussed in public, will also be made available to the local media to inform the public of the ongoing process.

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