Ridgell named to County’s road tax advisory panel

Daphyne Ridgell is ready to help Lexington County create a plan for road improvement.

Daphyne Ridgell is the second community leader from the Batesburg-Leesville area to become a member of the panel that will develop a plan for road improvements across Lexington County paid for by a new penny sales tax.

Ridgell, a long-time leader of the South Carolina Poultry Festival and former town councilwoman, is eager to get to work after her appointment to the panel last week. She joins local banker Allan Risinger on the panel.

Asked what is needed to upgrade commuting and transportation in the largely rural western half of the county, Ridgell simply said, “Attention.”

She wants a greater focus on local needs but promises to be sensitive to assuring repairs and new roads are spread across the 758-square-mile county.

Risinger nominated Ridgell for the appointment, citing her lengthy experience as a community volunteer and background as a business executive at the now-closed local facility of Burlington Industries.

The pair are among six panel members who will settle on a series of improvements that would be paid for by the tax increase. The plan will go on the Nov. 3 ballot for voter acceptance if County Council accepts the recommendations.

Members of the advisory panel – officially known as the Capital Project Sales Tax Commission – will sift through a series of suggestions expected to come from county officials, municipal leaders and possibly civic groups seeking a share of as much as $380 million that the tax is expected to generate over eight years.

Deadline for submission of proposed projects to the panel from Batesburg-Leesville, Gilbert, Summit and others is May 1. The advisory panel will spend a month settling on their package, sending it to council members in June. County leaders can only accept or reject the package, with no changes allowed by them.

The nine council members have made it clear that they will put the improvements plan and related sales tax increase on the ballot only if the package is devoted mainly to road repairs, with perhaps a small share for long-wanted drainage fixes to end flooding in Irmo-area neighborhoods.

Anti-tax groups agree that major improvements are needed to ease congestion and make travel on local roads safer, but they remain skeptical about the penny tax until the new package is known. County leaders say they can’t make significant improvements on many roads without more revenue.

A state gasoline tax hike underway will pay for upgrades on interstates and other thoroughfares, with only a minimal share slated for local roads that connect to those heavily traveled.

The first attempt for a penny tax increase lost in 2014 amid a ripple effect of alleged mismanagement and mistakes surrounding a similar tax in adjoining Richland County as well as complaints about the inclusion of upgrades to parks, trails, sports fields, civic centers and libraries.

That plan included $25 million to pave dirt roads mainly in the western half of the county and elsewhere as well as $14 million for intersection, widening and surfacing projects in the Batesburg-Leesville, Gilbert and Summit areas.

Like Risinger, Ridgell supported the plan that lost. “Any time something can improve our area, I’m all for it,” she said.

Concern persists among county leaders about the second try for the penny tax running into another wave of resistance stemming from Richland County’s persistent problems.

Lexington County already has a penny sales tax for schools. It is surrounded by communities with local sales taxes for roads and other improvements.