County Council dissolves penny tax commission, citing COVID-19

The novel coronavirus COVID-19 apparently has caused yet another shutdown. The Lexington County Penny Sales Tax Commission is no more.

Lexington County Council voted unanimously Tuesday to disband the appointed body it called on to study a potential Capital Project Sales Tax, also called the “Penny Sales Tax” in common vernacular.

“We feel that it is in the best interest of our taxpayers to not impose such a tax at this time given the current economic conditions caused by the coronavirus,” County Council Chairman Scott Whetstone said in written statement.

The proposed tax would have been a 1 percent levy on retail goods, and the proceeds would have funded transportation infrastructure improvements around the 750-plus square miles of Lexington County. It is estimated that a 1 percent sales tax on retail goods sold in the county would generate at least $52 million annually for road improvement.

“We don’t have enough coming in from the State. We don’t have enough money that the County can put over to that side, so the answer is a new revenue source,” said Councilman Larry Brigham, who represents Batesburg-Leesville and parts of the Gilbert area on County Council.

However, Councilman Brigham agreed that the timing wasn’t right to ask voters to dig deeper while in the midst of the disruptions caused by the coronavirus.

“You’ve got unemployment. You have the economic downturn. You have businesses going under and small businesses struggling,” he said. “It doesn’t mean that it’s forgotten. It just means that it’s postponed.”

Last November, County Council created a six-person commission – four appointed by County Council, with the other two appointed by members of the commission – to discuss which roadway improvement projects were to be considered.

Batesburg-Leesville area residents Allen Risinger and Daphyne Ridgell were called on to serve with the penny tax commission. With Tuesday’s vote, the current commission membership will be dissolved and will be reappointed when and if County Council chooses to explore the penny tax in the future.

“It is critical that Lexington County taxpayers who travel our roadways on their way to work and on their way home know how critical such a tax can be in improving and maintaining our roads,” Whetstone said.

Lexington County has taken a previous stab at instituting a penny tax for much-needed road improvements. In November 2014, voters rejected by a 2-to-1 margin a referendum on the 1 percent levy.

Stepping back from a referendum this year, with all that has unfolded with COVID-19 on the global and local stage, might make voters more likely to pass the one-cent road improvement tax later when economic conditions are more favorable. Though the penny sales tax commission has been disbanded, the information they have collected on possible road project priorities will be filed away and perhaps revisited later.

“It will come back up. It won’t be something that we drop for a long time,” Councilman Brigham said. “It will be discussed probably in the next year or two to see how far it goes.”