BAMBERG -- Bamberg County Council is moving ahead with plans to ask voters if they want to continue the 1 percent sales tax to pay for construction projects.
During a special called meeting on June 11, council gave second reading approval to an ordinance allowing a vote on the capital projects sales tax in November.
The ordinance also included a list of 10 projects that could be funded by the tax.
Proposed projects include:
• County law enforcement and health and human service complex -- $3.8 million
• Renovation of old city hall and relocation of police department in Denmark -- $400,000
• Upgrade of water system in Olar -- $71,000
• Renovation of community center in Little Swamp community -- $15,000
• Welcome center and tourism building in Bamberg -- $150,000
• Completion of Ehrhardt Park -- $105,000
• Renovation of Govan Town Hall -- $50,000
• Construction of walking berm in Bamberg to including lighting, ditch repair and walkway upgrades -- $125,000
• Installation of a bicycle and walking trail and fountain lighting in Raider Park in Bamberg -- $125,000
• Renovation of Olar Town Hall -- $3,000
County voters approved the first round of the 1 percent sales tax in November 2012 to fund $4.4 million in construction projects, including courthouse renovations.
The county would be allowed to issue bonds to borrow money and begin construction before all the money comes in. The new ordinance states that a bond issuance for the second round of the capital project sales tax would not exceed $5.6 million
"The total comes out to about $4.8 million, and that was pretty much the maximum that we could do. Again, no group got left out. Some projects simply couldn't be funded with the amount of money that we'd bring in," said Jerry Bell, chairman of the Capital Projects Sales Tax Commission.
Attorney Sidney Evering said the county has been averaging approximately $800,000 in sales tax collections each year.
"So our advice to the commission was to maybe issue two bonds. One for approximately $4.3 million just to be a little on the conservative side to make sure that the collections continue to come in at about that $800,000 rate. And the main reason why we wanted to do this is because if the sales tax collections ever dip to the point where they were not sufficient to pay for the bond, then the county would be responsible for raising millage to do that. And so we didn't want to at all have council do that," Evering said.
Councilman Trent Kinard said, "This is a way for everyone to pay."
"It's not just homeowners, not just people that own a vehicle, but every single citizen whether you own something or not. At least you're helping to pitch in and take some of the burden off the average taxpayer,” he said.
Councilwoman Sharon Hammond said, "As a community, we have to see how we contribute to Orangeburg getting built up the way it's built up. It's from the dollars that we go over there and spend and that extra penny that we're taxed on that's helping Orangeburg become a better county. We only want the same thing for Bamberg. ...
"That extra penny is going to help us look like the other counties because we don't have any other way of doing it. We're just trying to stay afloat and trying to present a better picture of our county by providing services that they need. They need law enforcement, they need DHEC, they need DSS. We've got to find a place for them to be housed and we don't have it."
Council Chairman Clint Carter said, "Our intent is to go to each city and have a meeting throughout the county" to make citizens more aware of the ordinance and what it entails.
In other budget matters, council gave second reading approval to the county's proposed FY 2018-2019 spending plan.
County Controller Gina Smith said the county would see a bigger general fund budget, with increasing health insurance and retirement contribution costs totaling $384,000 more than in the previous year alone.
"It's not all doom and gloom," she said. There are projects that the county will seek to complete in the new year, including making $47,415 worth of upgrades to the radios and communication equipment in the sheriff's department and procuring a $17,120 grant to provide bullet-proof vests.
Upgrades to the E911 Center will include the addition of a dispatch station.
In the area of road maintenance, Smith said proposals include a one-time levy of "eight or nine mills" and $1 per year increase in the road user fee for the next five years. The user fee is now $30 a year.
The general fund has had to contribute around $75,000 per year to support road maintenance, she said.
In the area of rural fire, she said setting aside an additional two mills for the maintenance of trucks and equipment is being proposed. As far as the enterprise fund, she said the employees in this department are also impacted by health insurance and retirement cost increases, so a request for an additional $18,700 is being made to cover those two items.
There will be no increase in the $70 solid waste fee.
There is no proposal to add any new positions to the budget.
The spending plan also does not include a cost-of-living increase for employees, but the average employee with family coverage, however, will not have to pay the $1,300 extra in health insurance costs because the county is absorbing 100 percent of the increase.
County Administrator Joey Preston said the county will also be addressing refinancing the $1.5 million general obligation bond for its now defunct hospital, or else face payments stretching out to 2028.