FLORENCE, S.C. – One does not have to look hard to see the impact of the two capital project sales taxes in Florence County.
From the ongoing efforts to widen S.C. 51, also known as Pamplico Highway, with funds from the first sales tax to the 458 roads completed with funds from the second capital project sales tax, the taxes are having an impact throughout the county.
Florence County Administrator K.G. “Rusty” Smith recently provided the Morning News with an update that was provided to the Florence County Council at its August meeting.
What is a capital project sales tax?
The capital project sales tax is informally known as a penny sales tax. It is commonly referred to as the penny sales tax because it allows counties to collect a 1% sales tax after a referendum. One percent of $1 is a penny.
Florence County has had two such taxes in its history.
Capital Project Sales Tax I
The first capital project sales tax is also known as the Florence County Forward Project. It went into effect from May 1, 2007 through April 30, 2014 after a referendum was approved on Nov. 7, 2006.
During that period, the county collected $144.702 million in taxes. The county also will receive $250 million in matching funds from the State Infrastructure Bank plus an additional $90 million that was approved on Dec. 4, 2013.
An agreement between the county, the infrastructure bank and the South Carolina Department of Transportation signed and entered on May 3, 2007 and amended on April 21, 2016, calls for the projects to be completed in priority order.
That’s why the process of completing these roads is taking so long. The county must wait to receive the matching funds to work on the projects.
Six projects are included in the sales tax: the widening of Pine Needles from South Ebenezer Road to Southborough Road; widening of U.S. 378 from U.S. 52 near Lake City to S.C. 41 near Kingsburg; the widening of U.S. 76 in Timmonsville from South Brockington Street (S.C. 403) to its Interstate 95 interchange; the widening of TV Road from Wilson Road to its Interstate 95 interchange; the aforementioned widening of S.C. 51 from Claussen Road to U.S. 378; and the extension of the U.S. 301 bypass to Alligator Road.
The widening of Pine Needles Road from two lanes to five lanes with curb and gutter was subdivided into two construction phases, both of which are complete. Original S.C. Department of Transportation estimates indicated that the project would cost $17.677 million, but the final cost was $16.165 million.
The widening of U.S. 378 from two lanes to a five-lane road with a middle shoulder was broken into five sections, all of which are complete. Original department of transportation estimates indicated a cost of $138.752 million, but the total project cost was $95.864 million.
The widening of U.S. 76 in Timmonsville called for both widening from two lanes to three lanes and from two lanes to five lanes. The project has been completed. The original estimate for the project was $31.642 million. The current project cost is $29.362 million.
The information provided to the county council indicates that an alternative truck route for U.S. 76 in Timmonsville also is being constructed. The contract was awarded to Cherokee Inc. for $2.127 million. The county is working to arrange a pre-construction meeting between the contractor and utilities before the start of construction.
Construction on the widening of TV Road from two lanes to five lanes with curb and gutter is complete. Total costs originally were estimated at $34.519 million, but the project cost is listed as $32.971 million.
Construction continues on the upgrade of S.C. 51 from two lanes to five lanes with curbs, gutters and shoulders. The project is broken into two sections that are estimated to be completed in the summer of 2020. The estimate for the project originally was $151.534 million. The current estimate is $134.438 million.
Alligator Road is scheduled to be widened from two lanes to five lanes with curbs, gutters and shoulders. Original department of transportation estimates called for the project to cost $73.464 million. The current costs are listed at $107.530 million with a construction cost estimate of $90.796 million. Construction on the project is expected to begin next summer so it will not interfere with school traffic. South Florence High School and Southside Middle School lie directly across U.S. 52 from Alligator Road. The project will continue until the summer of 2023.
Capital Project Sales Tax II
The second penny tax sales tax went to effect immediately after the expiration of the first tax on May 1, 2014, and it will expire on April 30, 2021.
The county has received $123.84 million in bond proceeds, a transfer from the debt service fund in the amount of $4.451 million, $2.653 million in interest, $969,746.18 in proceeds from West Florence fire bonds, $500,000 in ballfield lighting lease proceeds and $80,889.40 in local contributions for total of $133.494 million.
So far, $119.079 has been expended with $2.034 million in outstanding purchase orders for a total expenditure of $121.113 million.
There is a remaining total of $12.381 million.
Several hundred projects are included in this capital project sales tax.
Currently improvements have been made to 458 roads totaling 306.73 miles. The project has led to 91.45 miles of roads being resurfaced, 26.38 miles of dirt road being paved, 16.7 miles of crushed asphalt being placed and 104.2 miles of road stone being placed.
The referendum approved called for upgrades to 18 fire stations, 16 of which have been completed. The 16th is the Timmonsville Rescue Squad building. Upgrades are ongoing until the remaining $12,400 can be spent. Construction is ongoing on the 17th project. It involves upgrades to the Timmonsville EMS station. The construction involves interior work, such as installation of sprinkler heads and lights.
The sales tax also calls for the use of funds for five projects at the Florence County Sheriff’s Office. Construction of a new storage building and a K-9 training area has been completed. The information notes that the sheriff’s office is participating in an energy savings plan by PepCo for the county regarding the replacement of boilers and water heaters and the addition of flex units and safety upgrades at the jail.
Some of the funding will be used to do lighting upgrades, according to Chief Deputy Glen Kirby.
The remaining funds will be used for upgrades to the Emergency Operations Center once EMS vacates the building in favor of its new location nearby.
The project also calls for $550,965.85 in improvements and renovations to the County Complex. So far, improvements at the health clinic, the clerk of court’s office, solicitor’s office, the civil division of the sheriff’s office and county council chambers have been completed. Temporary housing for the auditor’s office has also been completed.
Eight projects, two each in Timmonsville, Scranton and Quinby, one in Olanta and one in Coward, were included. Six of these have been completed. Of the remaining two, the Timmonsville Community Center is under construction and the town of Quinby is seeking additional funding sources for upgrades to its recreation/community building.
There are also several projects under the management of Davis and Floyd.
There are $19 million of road improvements on 28 projects in the city of Florence. Eighteen of those projects have been completed. Another, intersection improvements at Damon Drive and Ansley Street, is 95% complete. Three projects are under design and four more are under construction. Currently, no work has been done on improvements to Sopkin Avenue, and no information is provided about the status of road widening on Roughfork and Maxwell streets.
This is the $20 million Florence Mayor Stephen J. Wukela references when discussing the capital project sales tax.
There are 15 Florence County projects, 12 of which have been completed. Three remain under construction.
Also, the traffic signal at West Palmetto Street (U.S. 76) and South Botany Drive/Jefferson Drive has been completed.
There are 10 projects in Lake City, five of which have been completed and five of which are under construction.
There are four projects in Olanta, three of which have been completed. Various construction projects for the town’s water and sewer system are underway.
There are also four projects in the town of Pamplico, three of which have been completed. Extension of the water system is under construction.
All three projects in the town of Coward have been completed. Both projects in Johnsonville have been completed. Both projects in Scranton have been completed.
Capital Project Sales Tax III?
The county has begun taking some steps toward getting a third sales tax on the ballot in November 2020 so it could take effect after the expiration of the second sales tax.
The first major step will be the appointment of a committee to collect information about needed projects from different areas of the county.