UNION COUNTY — While they are exempted from paying county property taxes, senior citizens receiving Homestead Exemption, churches and non-profit organization have, like everyone else in Union County, had to pay the Public Safety Fee.
That’s about to change.
Meeting in special session Friday afternoon, Union County Council voted unanimously to approve first reading of an ordinance repealing the Pubic Safety Fee.
The Public Safety Fee was one of two fees levied in 2015 to fund the operation of the Union County EMS. The ordinance levied a $50 fee on commercial properties and a $25 fee on residential properties. The fee was the result of the county assuming responsibility for the EMS which had previously been operated by the Union Hospital District. The county took over the EMS after the district filed bankruptcy and the rest of its constituent parts — Wallace Thompson Hospital (now Union Medical Center), Ellen Sagar Nursing Home (now Ellen Sagar Nursing Center) and Carolinas Health Associates — were take over the Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System.
Supervisor Frank Hart said Friday that repealing the Public Safety Fee was something the county had previously wanted to do but had been unable to do until now when it can replace the fee with tax millage. Hart said that until now the county has not had the additional millage needed to eliminate and replace the fee. He said that it now does have the necessary tax millage thanks to the Consumer Price Index increase over the last three years. Under state law, a county or municipality can increase its millage based on increases in the Consumer Price Index.
Hart said that over the past three years the millage increase the county was permitted through the Consumer Price Index has accumulated to the point where the county can use it to replace the fee. Even though millage will increase, Hart said the repeal of the Public Safety Fee will balance it out, making it revenue neutral and not actually increasing a person’s tax bill.
In addition, Hart said that seniors with Homestead Exemption, churches, and non-profits do not have to pay property taxes, but did have to pay the fee. He said that with its elimination they would no longer have to do so and would realize a savings as a result.
Hart said that the repeals of the Public Safety Fee is part of the process the county is undertaking in light of the upcoming November referendum on the Lost Option Sales Tax. He said the Local Option Sales Tax is designed to provide property relief and that if passed, a property owner with a house valued at $100,000 could see savings of between $65 and $69. He said that it is hoped that if the Local Option Sales Tax passes the county will also be able to repeal the Road User Fee which was also levied to support EMS.
Realizing savings was also part of council’s votes to approve second readings of ordinances authorizing the issuance of $1.6 million and $2.8 million in general obligation bonds.
Hart said that the county is seeking to refinance the bonds in order to take advantage of lower interest rates. He said that by doing so, the county will maintain its current payments on those debts while realizing interest savings. Those savings would in turn be used to fund projects within the county.
Council also voted to approve first reading of an ordinance authorizing the lease/purchase of new vehicles for the Union County Sheriff’s Office. The ordinance authorizes the spending of no more than $170,000 on the new vehicles.
During the discussion of the ordinance, Councilmember Kacie Petrie voiced concerns about acquiring vehicles through a lease/purchase agreement while Councilman Ben Ivey expressed concerns about what the vehicles would be equipped with, the necessity of such equipment, and the cost involved.
In response to Petrie and Ivey’s concerns, Hart recommended having Union County Sheriff David Taylor address council at its next meeting about those concerns.
Charles Warner can be reached at 864-762-4090.