Two steps Lexington County Council must take before putting its tax increase before voters

(Published in the Lexington County Chronicle on March 27)

By Ned Tolar

The power to levy taxes on citizens is not something to be taken lightly.

We work hard for our money, but it seems that government at all levels keeps asking us to fork over more and more of it. And while much of our tax money goes toward needed services such as schools and police, you don’t have to look hard to find examples of waste and misspending – such as unnecessary “pet projects,” excessive salaries for public officials and lucrative contracts for campaign contributors. Here in Lexington County, taxes are increased every year – unnecessarily, in my view.

Before Lexington County Council moves forward with its plan to raise the sales tax to eight percent, there are two important steps it should take to show taxpayers that the money we already pay is being put to its best use:

1. Show us the money. Lexington County should show its individual, monthly expenditures on its website.

In the last several years, about three dozen cities, towns and counties have begun posting their “check registers” on their websites under a fiscal transparency program sponsored by the State Comptroller's Office. This lets taxpayers see where their hard-earned dollars are going. It makes it easier to catch mistakes or abuse. It results in greater efficiency and accountability.

Here in the two-county area, Cayce, Irmo, Columbia and Richland County have begun making checkbook-level spending information publicly available on the web. And they each have reported that it’s easy and inexpensive to accomplish. So why doesn’t Lexington County do this?

2. Answer questions about the $450,000 contract. Many citizens, myself included, have questions about the $450,000 contract awarded to Alliance Consulting to promote and “consult” on the tax increase plan. Why was this out-of-county firm chosen over local firms based right here in Lexington County? Were hefty campaign contributions to members of County Council from this firm’s president the deciding factor? What exactly are citizens getting in return for this $450,000?

County Council should answer these questions openly and honestly.

In the interest of openness, let me acknowledge that I’m a candidate for County Council. But I’m not writing as a candidate. I’m writing as a concerned citizen who loves Lexington County but believes our county’s politicians aren’t nearly as responsive as they should be to the needs of regular, hard-working taxpayers.

More than a month ago, on Feb. 15, I wrote to all members of County Council requesting that they be more forthcoming about the true impact of their proposed sales tax increase. Raising it to eight percent would increase the tax burden on a family of four by $532 annually; yet the website of the pro-tax group makes no mention of the real cost, instead repeatedly using the word “penny” in an attempt to downplay the impact. Because this website is hosted on the county’s web servers and appears to be funded by the taxpayers, I believe it should be impartial, rather than designed to sway voters.

Unfortunately, I received no written responses – only a single phone call from a Council member who doesn’t represent my area.

And that’s a problem.

The taxpayers aren't asking County Council to raise our taxes. No, they’re asking us for more of our money. Therefore, they owe it to us to show that they’re being good stewards of existing funds.

This proposed tax increase is no small deal. It will diminish the spending power – and thus, the quality of life -- of every person in the county.

Our county politicians must show greater respect toward those whose hard-earned dollars they covet. If they continue to display a casual attitude toward tax increases, they have only themselves to blame when voters say “no” this fall.​

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