Greenville County Councilman Ennis Fant is proposing to raise the annual road maintenance fee by $10 for registered vehicle owners countywide, but Fant sees the increase only as a temporary measure.
Fant’s order, which calls for a public hearing for residents at the county council’s Nov. 1 meeting, would raise the annual fee to $25 per vehicle. Fant said he would use the fee hike to motivate voters to pass the penny sales tax he plans to propose to the county council next year.
If voters ultimately pass that penny sales tax — and that would require a public vote on a referendum, not just council approval — Fant said council members would cut the road fee to $15 where they are currently located.
“The $10 is just a carrot,” Fant said.
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Why increase the road charge in Greenville now?
Fant’s proposed increase comes as the county’s budget for road infrastructure fails to meet the demand for repairs and maintenance. According to an analysis report included in Fant’s order, Greenville County’s more than 1,800-mile highway system is currently underfunded at its annual level of $12 million.
The report, produced by Infrastructure Management Services, estimates that $18.8 to $21.3 million is needed each year to maintain the road network in an acceptable manner.
The county’s road system is moderately aged and grows about 20 miles each year, according to Fant’s proposed ordinance. Nearly half of the county’s roads are currently rated between very poor and fair condition.
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“We don’t have enough mileage to track the mileage we add every year,” Fant said.
The proposed $10 increase would generate $14 million a year, according to the order. That would allow the county to pave about 42 miles of road a year, Fant said.
But that is still not enough.
According to the ordinance’s estimates, there would still be a shortfall of at least $4 million between available funding and the amount needed for adequate maintenance. That’s why Fant is offering the fee as a temporary fix and a way to bolster support for the penny sales tax.
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A one-cent sales tax in Greenville County could generate nearly $90 million a year, Fant said.
In Fant’s mind, it’s a missed opportunity for Greenville to be one of only three counties in the state without such a sales tax while simultaneously experiencing how much growth it is, with more soon.
“There’s no way we’re the largest county in Greenville and we don’t have sales tax,” he said.
Greenville County residents are expected to vote for the tax in a referendum, which Fant hopes to see on the ballot in 2024.
Fant’s plans for the tax are narrowly focused. Money generated from the tax would only be used for infrastructure improvements throughout the county and would not be donated to outside organizations or nonprofits, he said.
Fant also said grocery stores would not be included in the tax and it would only be in effect for seven years. This, Fant said, would allow voters to determine whether the tax actually creates the infrastructure improvements it promises.
Not all Greenville County Council members want to raise road charges
Despite Fant’s long-term plans, not all members of the council are in favor of increasing road maintenance fees.
Stan Tzouvelekas said the council shouldn’t even consider this order.
“I am not in favor of any tax increase, especially at this time when the people of Greenville are suffering as badly as they are,” Tzouvelekas said. “With inflation, the cost of goods, interest rates, everything going up, now is not the time to raise taxes on our people.”
Joe Dill agreed, saying it was “a bad time” to consider raising the fee.
Despite this, Fant said he had enough votes to pass the ordinance.
A public hearing and a second vote for the road maintenance fee increase will take place on November 1. A final vote on the order could take place on November 15.
−Tim Carlin covers county government, growth and development for The Greenville News. Follow him on Twitter @timcarlin_and contact him at [email protected]. You can support his work by subscribing to The Greenville News at greenvillenews.com/subscribe.