New county sales tax an option for road funding

By Ron Barnett

Staff Reporter

LIBERTY — A countywide sales tax has been suggested as a possible way of paying for road maintenance in Pickens County, which has been on hold for nearly two years because of rising asphalt costs and not enough money coming in from the $20 paving fee that vehicle owners pay every year along with their property taxes.

Pickens County has approached each of the seven municipalities within the county with a proposed agreement that would change the way county road maintenance money is managed within the cities. It doesn’t mention changing the method of collecting the money, but is the first step in the process of reforming the system, county administrator Gerald Wilson said.

The idea of a countywide sales tax, he said, came from the town of Central and would require voter approval in a referendum. The proposal would include doing away with the $20 fee now collected on property tax bills, he said.

“We’re looking right now at various funding options,” Wilson said.

The proposal is for a half-penny county sales tax, which Wilson said would generate an estimated $4 million to $5 million a year for roads. The $20 fee now brings in $2.1 million a year, which allows for paving 20-25 miles a year.

At that rate, it would take 40 years to cover all 900 miles in the county roads system, including those inside the cities, he said. The county wants to be on a 20-year cycle.

The proposed agreement, which calls for allocating roads money within the municipalities based on their total number of county roads and letting city officials decide which roads to pave, has gotten a favorable review from city administrators across the county, according to Liberty city administrator Bruce Evilsizor.

“It made sense to us to go this route,” Evilsizor told city council membres at their regular monthly meeting last week.

Under the current system, the county decides which roads within the cities to pave, based on its analysis of road conditions.

“We wanted to give the municipalities a little bit more control of their future destiny and let them have a little more say of what takes place within their corporate limits,” Wilson said.

The cities would decide how to spend the money and oversee the work, but the county could still put all the municipal projects out to bid along with the county projects in order to get the best price, he said.

The county has been collecting the $20 roads fee since 2001, and about a decade ago took over responsibility for paving roads inside the municipalities, according to Wilson. The flat fee has helped Pickens County keep up the roads both inside and outside the cities, but because of “dramatic” increases in costs over the past couple of years, paving projects have been put on hold, Wilson said.

“We are ahead of the game, but we’re not collecting enough money to stay ahead of the game, is the problem,” he said.

Liberty Mayor Brian Petersen said the current roads funding system has done “a fairly adequate job” on Liberty’s roads. But he said larger municipalities such as Easley and Clemson have been pushing for more autonomy over paving in their cities.

Liberty City Council took no action on the proposal, but decided to study the issue at its next work session March 5, and it could be on the agenda for the next regular council meeting March 11.