Tuesday, January 28, 2014
The core mission of our pubic saftey agencies is to protect the people. However, as the economy continues to suffer so do the nation's law enforcement and other public saftey agencies including Williamsburg County through budget cuts. As a result, agencies are forced to work with limited resources and minimal manpower. The issue was once again raised during a January 21, County Council meeting, however this time a proposal was made that, if successful, would provide revenues for much needed equipment, personnel and facility renovations as well as meet the increasing needs of its citizens. The proposal is a Penny Sales Tax that will only be used for public saftey departments and pubic saftey purposes. The tax is not a property tax, therefore will not raise property taxes. "Pubic safety is a major concern across the country, across the state and within Williamsburg County," said County Supervisor Stanley Pasley. "We do survey after survey, and every time we conduct one, pubic saftey is right at the top of the issue of concerns for our citizens." Penny Sales tax is no new concept. Many counties and cities depend on a Penny Sales Tax to generate funds for specific needs in this penny-pinching economic climate. The one-cent sales tax is estimated to generate $---- annually and will replace some revenues lost due to the reduction in State Aid to local government and will help the county and municipalities control gang, drug related burglary and other criminal activities, to name a few of the benefits. At the top of the list is replacing the outdated (and soon to be non-compliant) radio communications system, additional personnel to help reduce response times to emergency and non-emergency calls, provide additional on-duty officers for neighborhoods and businesses and renovate facilities such as the Town of Kingstree Police Department. Council has been in contact with members of the legislative delegation in hopes the delegation will make the proposal a reality. In order to go forward with the initiative, the state must pass a Public Sales Tax Act, which in turn would allow for the county to call for a referendum on the November ballot. Pasley said the goal is have the proposal put in the current legislative session. Council is waiting for the delegation to confirm attending council's February 3, meeting where they will have an opportunity to discuss the proposal. "At that time it would be a great opportunity for us to have and show the collaboration that exists between our state legislatures, who will be responsible for shepherding this proposed legislation through, and our law enforcement and the local governing body to come together in unity to address this." said Pasley. He added they have solicited the South Carolina Association of Counties to work with the county. Pasley said this past December the Association of Counties went on record supporting the proposal. The sales tax already in place can only be used for capital projects and does not include personnel. The proposal calls for 130 new public safety employees for such departments as the Sheriff's Office and County Fire Department, Kingstree and Hemingway Police and Fire Departments, Lane and Greeleyville Police Departments, E911, EMS and the animal shelter. Pasley said the state is looking at several options, however, he said they believe this is the option that works best for Williamsburg County. "Counties that have populations of 50,000 or less find themselves in much more difficult times trying to raise the kind of revenue necessary to support the changes that are occurring in the law enforcement arena," said Pasley. "There are so many regulations, guidelines, and mandates on law enforcement; the bottom line is the only way that you can address them is you have to have dollars and we just don't have that kind of tax base to support them." A number of public saftey personnel from various jurisdictions across the county, city and even at the state level attended the council meeting; a clear indication of the importance of the proposed initiative. Many of them were part of an aggregation of public saftey personnel that includes the Williamsburg County E911- Emergency Management Division, Sheriff's Office, and Police Chiefs spent last year delivering the idea to communities across the county. Williamsburg County Sheriff Michael Johnson said everyone has been working hard to educate the citizens on the importance of the initiative. "We've had meetings throughout the entire county," said Johnson in a phone interview. "There has been a lot of questions and we've been answering those questions. All we're asking is to give public saftey one-cent of every dollar that they spend and that goes toward public saftey in Williamsburg County. We're not asking just property owners. Everybody will part-take, even visitors."