By Stan Welch
Approximately thirty five people attended a public meeting held at the West Pelzer municipal center about the proposed county road fee.
County Council chair Tommy Dunn, County Council members Brett Sanders (D4), and Cindy Wilson, who hosted the meeting were joined by County Administrator Rusty Burns, Roads and Bridges Director Matt Hogan, and County Finance Director Rita Davis, as they explained the proposed fee and answered questions from the audience.
Wilson began by explaining that the current budget includes absolutely no funding for paving on a district by district basis. Council members in the past have been allocated certain revenues to be used for paving in the respective districts. Widely seen as slush funds, that system was changed several years ago to address paving needs on a countywide basis.
She pointed out that the C funds the county receives for paving from the state amounts to less than four million dollars this fiscal year. She added that the county will see no increase in funding as the result of an increase in the state gas tax.
Davis then presented the case for the road fee, pointing out that it will be a dedicated amount. “Currently, up to seventy five per cent of the ad valorem taxes collected by the county go to the schools and the fire departments, and first responders. While no one begrudges those entities the money, as a fee, this revenue will be dedicated to road work.” The county is responsible for 1,354 miles of roads.
Predictably, Davis and various others from the county, reminded everyone that Act 388 reduced the tax ratio on vehicles from ten and a half per cent to six per cent, resulting in 4.7 million fewer dollars annually. “The fee would provide a great deal of stability in planning and funding road projects.” The fee would have to be reinstated by vote of the council every four years, and would undergo a separate audit each year.
The floor was then opened for questions, and Ruby Garrisch, chair of the Anderson County Republican Women, moved to the microphone. She raised the issue of the fee not being voted on in a referendum, as well as questioning the quality of road work being done in the county now. “Do we have any oversight on these things?”
Matt Hogan explained the inspection process, which includes daily county presence on active road projects, as well as overall supervision. “These standards that have to be met are largely state standards. So we have thorough inspections of these projects.”
District Four Councilman Brett Sanders assured everyone that the Council is in the information gathering stage of the process. He also explained that as a road deteriorates, the cost of rehabilitation increases tremendously. “Every week, every month, every budget we go without addressing these problems, the more it will cost when we do.”
Chairman Tommy Dunn agreed, saying “We have to do something. The unfunded mandates that the state is so fond of handing down to the counties just increase the pressure on our resources.”
He also explained that during the recession several years ago, a lot of paving contractors went out of business. “So there aren’t a lot of people around doing this kind of work. So prices go up, even while expertise goes down.”
Matt Hogan responded to one citizen’s questions by explaining that the county had explored the possibility of going in house with its roads and bridges needs, but found the expense was too great.
The county has been holding a series of such meetings across the county. The West Pelzer crowd was much more thoughtful and insightful than the crowd at the last meeting, in Piercetown, where suggestions included taxing spandex to make cyclists bear some of the burden.
By Stan Welch