UNION COUNTY —Senior citizens and other residents of Union County along with local businesses, churches, and non-profits are a step close to no longer having to pay the Public Safety Fee.
In a special meeting Friday afternoon, Union County Council voted to approve second reading of an ordinance repealing the fee. A public hearing and a third reading of the ordinance are required before it becomes law and the fee is repealed.
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 in 2014 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 in 2015.
Council voted in August to approve first reading of the ordinance repealing the fee, something Supervisor Frank Hart said the 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.
Local Option Sales Tax
Also in August, Hart said that the repeal 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.
The referendum poses the following question to voters:
Must a one percent (1%) sales and use tax be levied in Union County for the purpose of allowing a credit against a taxpayer’s county and municipal ad valorem tax liability and for the purpose of funding county and municipal operations in the Union County area?
If approved, the county would begin levying the tax on the first day of July 2017. The ordinance states that the revenue generated by the tax would be collected in a Local Sales and Use Tax Fund for the county. The fund will consist of the Property Tax Credit Fund and the County/Municipal Revenue Fund. It states that 71 percent of the funds collected will be allocated to the Property Tax Credit Fund and must be used for property tax relief for county taxpayers. The other 29 percent will be allocated to the County/Municipal Revenue Fund and may be used for county/municipal operations.
The SC Department of Revenue estimates that a local option sales and use tax in Union County will generate an estimated $1.2 million within the county. Of that, Union County would receive an estimated $570,840 for property tax relief and an estimated $156,600 for county operations. The county’s municipalities would would receive an estimated $281,160 for property tax relief and an estimated $191,400 for municipal operations.
When council approved putting the referendum on the November ballot, Hart said that if the voters approved it the county will be able to receive revenue generated from other counties that have implemented a local option sales and use tax in addition to the revenue generated locally. Hart pointed out that most counties in the state have adopted a local option sales tax and that adopting it here will be a great opportunity for Union County as 25 cents out of every dollar generated by its passage will come from outside the county. He added that South Carolina law allows counties which collect more than $5 million in local option sale tax revenue to have part of that withheld and distributed to other counties. Union County would become one of those counties receiving those funds if the referendum is approved.
Hart said is estimated that Union County could receive between $300,000 and $500,000 in local option sales and use tax revenue from outside the county or an additional 25 cents for every 75 cents the county collects. In addition, Hart said some of the tax funds the county will be receiving will be paid by people from outside the county who travel here. He said the county has committed to using all the funds it would collect through the local option sales and use tax to property tax relief for county taxpayers in addition to eliminating the public safety and road user fees.
A property owner with a home with an assessed value of $100,000 currently has a tax liability of $862.80. If the local option sales and use tax were to pass, their property tax liability would be reduced by estimated $69.20 to $793.60.
Charles Warner can be reached at 864-762-4090.