State senator says he’ll vote No on Darlington penny sales tax referendum

Voters in Darlington County will decide on Election Day whether or not to approve a bond referendum extending a penny sales tax, but one state leader says he's voting no.
Voters in Darlington County will decide on Election Day whether or not to approve a bond referendum extending a penny sales tax, but one state leader says he's voting no.

DARLINGTON, SC (WBTW) – Voters in Darlington County will decide on Election Day whether or not to approve a bond referendum extending a penny sales tax, but one state leader says he’s voting no.

That’s what SC Sen. Gerald Malloy (D-Darlington) said he will do next Tuesday regarding the tax extension to pay for new schools.

Malloy said the county has other, more pressing needs right now, including replacing the over half-century old Darlington County Courthouse.

“The taxpayer has one wallet,” said Sen. Malloy.

One wallet that the senator doesn’t want to see two county entities fighting over.

The Darlington County Board of Education voted this summer to put the penny sales tax referendum on the November ballot. School district public information officer Audrey Childers said in a statement that the original bond referendum of $48 million was used to build three brand new schools and renovate others.

The original bond was set to expire in 2030.

Childers noted that through fiscal management, the school district was able to pay down the debt ahead of schedule, meaning it is now set to expire in 2018.

Childers went on to say that the school district still has a need for new facilities though, and so they put a new bond referendum on the ballot.

“I’m voting no,” Malloy declared. He said that money could be better spent elsewhere.

“Politics is about allocating resources and setting priorities,” explained the senator. “I think the number one priority right now in Darlington county is infrastructure.”

Interim Darlington County Administrator Charles Stewart believes the time has long-since passed to allocate funds for a new courthouse.

Stewart released a statement Tuesday which reads in part:

“The County is not interested in increasing the tax burden on its citizens, so the County has waited for more than 10 years for the School District’s bond on the penny to end. The County has tried to coordinate with the District on the timing of the renewal of the penny tax to little avail.

The County would like to use the funds to build a new courthouse that is sorely needed to provide proper, safe, and secure government services.”

Sen. Malloy agrees, and said there’s no way the taxpayers should be required to foot the bill for new schools and new infrastructure at the same time.

“I didn’t think the taxpayer should have to stomach a penny from the school district and a penny from the county,” said Malloy. “That would make us one of the highest taxed counties in the state.”

Sen. Malloy points to stagnant population growth and a dwindling number of students as a reason to spend more money on infrastructure like a new courthouse.

According to the U.S. census, since 2000, Darlington County’s population has remained around 67,000 people, while counties on the coast like Horry have seen 37% growth as of the 2010 survey. Malloy also said there are only about 10,400 students currently enrolled in the 23 schools across the county.

Sen. Malloy said spending money to bring jobs and growth to Darlington County now will mean more money for schools later.

“If we are successful in our infrastructure issues, then we’ll be able to build businesses, and businesses are what will allow the tax base to increase,” said Malloy

The senator also added that while the school district has paid some debt down, they still owe for the next two years, and he’s not willing to allow new growth to slip away when his people need it most.

“If this referendum passes, I think it would decrease the chances on some infrastructure and needs that are in Darlington County,” Sen. Malloy said. “I think it’s problematic for downtown Darlington.”

Sen. Malloy said the bottom line is that the county has waited its turn while the school system used the penny sales tax money, and it’s now time to use that money to help not just Darlington, but the rural areas surrounding it.

News 13 reached out to officials with Darlington County Schools for a response to the senator’s statements but have not heard back.