BY MATT BRUCE MATTHEW@THEITEM.COM 803-774-1272
Sumter County voters on Tuesday voted in favor of renewing a penny sales tax to fund dozens of capital projects in the county over the next several years.
The vote came via a ballot referendum, which 60 percent of voters favored, according to preliminary results. With 58 of the 67 precincts reporting as of late Tuesday night, 15,956 people had opted for the tax while 10,744 voted not to approve it.
"So far, if the trend continues like it is, I'm ecstatic," said Bobby Boykin, chairman of the Penny for Progress committee. "I'm thrilled that the people of Sumter decided that we're going to continue this progress that we're on and continue the good things that are going on."
The referendum asked voters to continue a 1 cent county Capital Projects Sales Tax, which is poised to raise $75 million to go toward 28 new community projects. It was a continuation of the original penny sales tax that passed by a narrow margin during the 2008 election. That one-cent tax on goods and services in the county raised $75 million to pay for 16 capital projects. It is set to expire in 2016, and Tuesday's ballot referendum effectively renews the tax for another seven years.
Voters embraced the tax renewal initiative, particularly in the Shaw and Mayesville precincts, where more than 70 percent of voters cast "yes" ballots on the referendum. The referendum seemed to have its strongest opposition in the Rembert and Saltertown areas, where voters rejected the proposal.
The new penny tax is expected to begin at the sunset of the original one, which was implemented in May 2009 and expires May 1, 2016. The first round of projects included fire station improvements, a new state-of-the-art judicial center and a $4 million revamping of the Sumter County Civic Center. Tuesday's referendum will allow county legislators to begin moving quickly as it authorized officials to approve the purchase of up to $40 million in bonds to fund projects as soon as possible, in anticipation of the windfall from the sales tax dollars.
Supporters said the approval showed that Sumter is progressive and brought residents from different group and party affiliations together in support of the measure.
"It really is a great night," said Bob Smith, chairman of the Greater Sumter Chamber of Commerce. "We can't expect industry to invest in our communities if we don't want to invest in ourselves. And what's so great about this is we brought everybody together to say this is good for our community. These are great projects that will continue to expand in the four focus groups of economic development, quality of life, public safety and infrastructure."
Among the litany of public safety, infrastructure and wellness upgrades included in the slate of projects are new City of Sumter police, E911 Emergency Services and fire stations, a $2.5 million renovation to the Manning Avenue Bridge, and the development of a sports complex/recreational complex. As part of the referendum, the projects are legally bound not to vary in their scope or cost.
Boykin expects the tax to have a long-term positive impact on the county's business community and said he was excited about the forthcoming improvements, which won't come on the backs of property owners.
"I think that this is another life-changing event for this community, and it will be a wonderful thing. We've got another great opportunity to see another wonderful set of improvements. It's a victory for the whole Sumter community."
This article reprinted with permission of The Item. For more information, visit www.theitem.com.