In Columbia this morning, Charleston County’s financial advisor, attorney and Chairman Elliott Summey presented the county’s plans to fund its portion of the extension of I-526, primarily using revenue from the 2004 and 2016 half-cent sales taxes. They confirmed our fear that this plan is half-formed and could jeopardize not only the half-cent sales tax projects, but also the county’s ability to address future needs.
On top of that, Charleston County Council isn’t being honest with us. A member of the subcommittee asked today if the county had organized a list of projects the 2016 sales tax increase would fund.
“Did you publicize a list? Put it out to the public?” the legislator asked.
“No sir,” attorney Joe Dawson answered.
Let’s travel back in time. It’s the summer of 2016. Charleston County proposes a half-penny tax hike to fund infrastructure projects like local roads, bridges, mass transit, drainage improvements and land conservation. To place a referendum on the November ballot, council leaders drafted and passed an ordinance, which did indeed include specific priorities. In the first ordinance draft, the county’s list included the extension of I-526. But by third reading, the project was removed from the final ordinance due to widespread public opposition.
Days before the election, Councilman Herb Sass urged voters to support the increase, pledging that I-526 and the half-cent tax were two separate issues. He said voters could trust that funds generated by the increase would support real needs like improvements to Highway 41 in Mount Pleasant and Main Road at US 17, both of which serve as evacuation lifelines for these communities. A later county presentation confirmed “every penny” of the sales tax was allocated.
Today, less than three years after voter approval, council members are shifting half-cent money to one project — the project our local leaders promised voters it would not go to. This is deception of the highest order!
Without your consent, your county council is committing at least $305 million to fewer than eight miles of concrete. The I-526 extension will destroy the water quality of the Stono River, wetlands and rural farms. The road will advance unmanageable growth on James and Johns islands and shave no more than seconds from West Ashley commutes. Real people, your neighbors, will suffer because of this unnecessary and outdated road.
And while we wait years for project designs and estimates and more politicking, nothing will change for the better in this community. Badly needed and effective local roads that you actually voted to build will not get built. Mass transit projects like Lowcountry Rapid Transit will likely stall. Flooding will worsen, and we will have no money and no leadership from our county council to combat it.
You and I, and future local elected leaders, will all be bound by this decision. It is time to regain control of your local dollars and how your will is reflected in County Chambers and Columbia’s meeting rooms. Sign or share our petition opposing I-526 and urging Charleston County Council to focus on urgent and real local priorities.
Today’s meeting in Columbia confirmed three things: The I-526 extension will rob other projects of funding; Charleston County Council is rejecting the will of its residents; and, moving this agreement forward will tie the hands of future local leaders so they can’t address real priorities. The Joint Bond Review Committee subcommittee will soon meet a third time to discuss sending the contract back to the full committee for final review. We will keep you in the loop.