Capital Sales Tax Commission nearing deadline

The county’s Capital Project Sales Tax Commission will hear project requests for the final time on Tuesday, May 12.

The commission was appointed by the Laurens County Council to consider project proposals to be paid for by a potential capital project sales tax that is to be put to a referendum in November’s General Election. If approved, the one-cent countywide sales tax would fund capital projects approved by the commission.

The capital sales tax would expire after eight years if not extended by voters. County leaders have put a $35 million total spending cap on the projects.

“So far, 13 projects have been submitted, and we’re still under the $35 million cap,” said Commission Chairman Walter Hughes III. “So far, the projects are hitting every single corner of the county, which I’m happy about.”

The 13 projects already presented, which total about $30 million, range from $200,000 to roughly $8.9 million in price. The most expensive projects so far include the combined first two phases of a restoration project for the Historic Laurens County Courthouse ($8.9 million) and an agricultural center ($7.8 million).

The initial deadline for the commission to hear project proposals was the end of April, but the commission extended its deadline until May 12 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Several members of the commission are business owners, so we’re trying to find the best way to make this palatable for people,” Hughes said. “We don’t want to be totally out of touch with local businesses taking a hit with the pandemic. We’ve had to pivot like everybody has and find a way to make this work. If we’re tone deaf, it’s not going to do the county or anyone any good.”

Hughes said he expects at least three more projects to be submitted at the May 12 meeting. After that, the commission will meet to prioritize the projects, ranking them in what the commission members see as importance and impact for the county.

“That’s when the hard part of our job begins,” Hughes said.

If the $35 million budget threshold is reached before approved projects with low prioritization are done, those projects will not be funded.

Once the list of approved projects is submitted to the Laurens County Council at its scheduled May 28 meeting, council will hold the first of three readings to either approve or deny the list for referendum.

If approved by council, the referendum will be submitted to the South Carolina Election Commission and placed on the November ballot.

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