Originally created 09/26/00

Voters will decide fate of tax



AIKEN - If county voters decide in November to add a penny to the current 5 cent sales tax, the city will strike its 2 cent hospitality tax.

Aiken City Council unanimously approved a resolution Monday to allow the city to use revenue from the 1 cent local option sales tax to fund projects currently funded by the hospitality tax.

"We have determined that sufficient funds would be generated through the 1 cent sales tax and the city can eliminate the current 2 cent hospitality tax if this is approved on the November ballot," City Manager Roger LeDuc said.

Aiken County Council unanimously voted in August to put the tax referendum on the Nov. 7 ballot. The extra penny will cover the cost of county and municipal projects during the next seven years.

"It just makes sense to do this," Councilman Pat Cunning said. "It's just logic."

The 1 cent add-on tax is expected to bring in more than $54 million to the county. The money will be used to pave 90 miles of dirt roads, provide $15 million as the county's share for the Bobby Jones Expressway extension, and pay for specific projects in the cities of Aiken and North Augusta.

Aiken is expected to receive more than $12.4 million during seven years, Mr. LeDuc said. The city will continue to do the projects it planned to complete with revenue from the 2 cent hospitality tax, he said.

These projects include Phases II, III and IV at Citizens Park, the Tennis Complex, Skate Park, Downtown Performing Arts Center and a new Public Safety substation at Citizens Park, Mr. LeDuc said.

The sales tax also would produce enough money to complete paving projects amounting to $150,000 each year and about $240,000 yearly in streetscape work during seven years.

In addition, funding was included for the Schofield Recreation Park and for sidewalk improvements leading to Smith-Hazel on Kershaw and Abbeville streets.

Also on the ballot is a proposal to reduce the vehicle property tax from 10.5 percent to 6 percent during a five-year period. This would reduce vehicle property tax revenue to the city by about $500,000 yearly.

Last year, the state approved the reduction of the city's franchise fee for telecommunications to .75 percent starting in the year 2005, which would amount to a reduction in revenue of more than $200,000.

For those reasons, the city decided Monday to keep the accommodations tax.

If the 1 cent sales tax is approved in November, it will start in spring 2001.

In other news, the council decided in a work session Monday to draw up an ordinance that would allow Mayor Fred Cavanaugh to earn three times what council members earn and twice what the mayor pro tem would make.

The mayor's salary would increase to $9,000 from $6,000 and the mayor pro tem's salary would increase from $3,000 to $6,000. Council members' salaries would remain at $3,000.

The council will vote on the first reading of the ordinance on Oct. 9.

Reach Katie Throne at (803) 279-6895.