I am relatively new to Orangeburg County, having relocated to be a part of the Orangeburg medical community. It is distressing to see the number of boarded-up storefronts and dilapidated businesses that speak to widespread failure of business.

The lack of available viable business opportunities for general shopping, basic services and venues for discretionary incomes -- such as dining and entertainment -- forces most of us to travel to Columbia and Charleston. I would have thought a city this size would have many more offerings that the community could/should support.

As a committed citizen and as a prospective new business owner, I believe every member of the city and county needs to take issue with the proposed Orangeburg County business tax, which in fact is no more than a “cash grab” by local politicians put forward to support their inability to balance the county’s budget. Why is this county’s leadership postured so strongly as anti-business?

They should be promoting retention of existing business and actively recruiting new business and entrepreneurs, which will result in fewer closed doors and empty, overgrown commercial lots. A vibrant and healthy business community increases tax base, attracts new residents, increases new job offerings and promotes community pride in buying local and doing business with local agencies. What is not needed is an overt message that the council persons “could adamantly care less about business” in this county.

Having read the proposed business tax ordinance, I worry most business owners have not read the proposal or considered its impact on their business. All business will be affected -- be it an insurance office, a restaurant, a farmer or those we rely on for construction, landscaping, electrical and plumbing support, etc. The intention of the ordinance is to tax ALL -- be it the family roadside produce stand to those nonresident high-tech enterprises that support our health care and business industries.

Everyone deserves to read this poorly-thought-through proposal and to evaluate the inappropriateness of what the county officials are intending to do with this ordinance. The general lack of checks and balances to limit council’s action in all aspects of the proposal is truly frightening. For example, for the next budget shortfall, there is nothing to prohibit council from randomly and unilaterally increasing this tax again.

Why at such a critical time in our community when we are literally bleeding business in all sectors to surrounding communities are our county officials striving to burden and discourage business leaders and entrepreneurs? We want business leaders and entrepreneurs to move forward with plans for growth and expansion, but instead they will be penalized for their hard work with no measurable or tangible return for moneys assessed. The taxation is council’s reward for the “pleasure of doing business in Orangeburg County.” Business should be applauded for its civic investment and for leadership at this critical time in supporting what seems to be a dying county. Incentivize not punish.

Business needs be aware of the fee structures proposed; they tax gross revenues, not net revenues. The inference is that it could be increased at any time without cause but simply because council chooses. The penalties and sanctions for noncompliance are draconian and put forward without due process or possibility of appeal.

By necessity, the new tax will create yet another inefficient and costly bureaucracy to oversee and administer this tax to some 1,700 county businesses. Estimates are that the newly formed bureaucracy will require as much as $200,000-300,000 per year to operate. It is likely that to operate this new bureaucracy, as much as a third of the new tax money collected will be consumed for enforcing this new ordinance.

The solution to the county’s budgetary shortfall is not grabbing cash from business “because they can,” but rather rolling up their sleeves and working to trim 2-3 percent of the proposed budget. The solution should be more than an unimaginative “cut and paste” lifted from the Association of Counties website. Council has a responsibility to show diligence and imagination in intellectually revisiting the current budget.

It’s essential that they reach out and solicit input from those who have been successful at resolving this type of budget problem. There are answers and solutions for this budget crisis. They should look to business for help in solving the budget through a spirit of collaboration -- not through an unjust money grab.

Finally, it was reported that the revenues for the “proposed tax” have been incorporated into the approved budget for the coming fiscal year when it has not moved through the second reading or public hearing phase of approval. The optics are bad, as are the ethical principles.

The answer is: Council should go back to the books and find areas to cut inefficiency and waste and should immediately apologize to Orangeburg County business, moving forward in a pro-business posture. Businesses should be courted -- not attacked.

Let’s hope for more a prosperous Orangeburg with fewer boarded up storefronts and more prosperity and opportunities for everyone to live and work here with a sense of transparency and honest return for their hard work and life’s investment.

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