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Wednesday
May152019

Opinion: Council Wise to Include Vehicle Fee in Budget 

Anderson Observer Opinion

Once again, there’s a big economic pothole facing Anderson County, one which is getting deeper every year. 

In spite of the state lawmakers pledge to do something about the state’s deteriorating roads and bridges, their efforts have done nothing to smooth out the 1,535 miles of county roads in Anderson or the 163 bridges for which the county is responsible. We cannot count on the state to sufficiently maintain state roads, much less our county roads. 

Progress has been made, and the Assistant Anderson County Adminstrator Holt Hopkins as his road crews are paving as many roads as funds permit. But the currently level of funding remains so far behind the need continues to grow to find a sustainable source of revenue for maining our roads and bridges.

Currently, to maintain all roads/bridges infrastructure in the county would require more than $7.5 million per year. Sadly, a sustainable funding source for our roads and bridges is not in sight. County council has pieced together a variety of temporary funding sources, but years of neglect requires more than some paving and putting band aids on many of our our pocked, crumbling roads.

Meanwhile, Anderson County’s population is booming. The population has nearly doubled since 1970, and has grown by nearly 35,000 since 2000. The 2020 Census preliminary numbers suggest the population now tops 200,000. 

This growth has created an accelerated demand for services, but an increase in taxes and fees have not kept pace with the population growth to provide for the growing population. The county’s base millage rate remains among the lowest in the state, and council has been prudent in leading the county out of the 2008 economic downturn by keeping property taxes down. 

When county council meets Tuesday night, as part of the FY 2019-2020 budget, it will consider a $25-per-vehicle fee. The $25 will be used to repair roads. It is the perfect time to consider a vehicle fee in Anderson County and help pave the way for our future.

The fee would include a  one-mil-tax reduction offsetting the cost for most taxpayers in Anderson County.

Currently 27 counties in South Carolina have vehicle fees. Horry County has the highest fees at $50 per year, while Abbeville County boasts the lowest - and oddest - at $13.99. The statewide average is roughly $24 per year per vehicle. 

I have talked to leadership in almost all of Anderson’s charitable organizations, and most agreed that even the working poor and those on fixed incomes could absorb such modest fees if it meant better roads. 

A number of national studies also suggest that well-maintained roads more than offset the cost of vehicle fees in savings on tires and other mechanical repairs. 

So there is little reason not to act now, and council is to be commended for taking this big step to improve the county's infrastructure.

If Anderson County approved the $25 annual vehicle fee, with a provision that the money can never be used for any purpose other than road and bridge maintenance and repair, it would generate more than $5.3 million annually. The math works out to just over $2 per month for the owner of a vehicle.

Essentially, the fee means that every owner of a vehicle - those who use the roads - would be providing a sustainable source of funding Anderson County roads and bridges at a cost of pennies per day both for today and for the future. 

There are those who protest any increase in taxes and fees, no matter the efficacy of the financial decision.

Such protests are just short of silly. Any Anderson County citizen who can afford a vehicle is should recognize fuding county roads is likely to save them more than the annual fee in tires and alignement costs. 

Anderson County has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the state. Wages are up, new jobs are everywhere and more on the way. The county has more international investment than any other in South Carolina, with more than 51 companies representing 23 nations calling Anderson home. 

The new Arthrex facility in Sandy Springs and continued growth of TTI and Michelin, have kept Anderson at the forefront in economic development, in spite of our roads. But quality of life and other issues, which are crucial to economic development, include such things as maintence of our transportation pathways. Anderson cannot afford to forever allow our roads funding to lag and struggle and play catch up just to patch and repair and expect outside investment to continue to grow.

But that is exactly what could happen if a sustainable funding source is not found soon. 

Council has shown great wisdom in moving forward on paving the way to a bright future by making the vehicle fee a part of the FY budget now being hammered out. The next meeting is Tuesday night, and the public is always invlted, but you can contact your council representative anytime here.

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