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Smith seeking assistance from Sales Tax Commission to get gateway improvement funds

June 7, 2018 GMT

Aiken County Councilman Chuck Smith believes $2.5 million for gateway corridor improvements in the North Augusta area should be included on County Council’s list of Capital Project Sales Tax IV projects.

But, so far, it’s been a difficult battle.

Now, Smith is hoping to get help from the Capital Project Sales Tax Commission, which meets at 5 p.m. Thursday in the Aiken County Government Center’s Sandlapper Room.

“I will be there,” said Smith on Wednesday. “I’ve asked them to do something, so we’ll see where it goes.”

On April 17, County Council approved its list of projects along with amendments that redistributed the $2.5 million that had been allocated for gateway improvements by the panel’s Capital Project Sales Tax IV Study Committee.

Smith, who wasn’t at the meeting because he was on a business trip to Arizona, was a member of the Study Committee.

Then on May 1, Smith asked County Council to reconsider its decisions about gateway improvements. But his fellow members declined to make a motion to do so and his appeal died.

On Tuesday, County Council said no again, voting 6-3 against a resolution proposed by County Councilman Sandy Haskell to restore the $2.5 million for gateway improvements to the list.

Haskell previously had expressed his support for Smith’s efforts. Smith and Haskell’s districts both are located in the North Augusta area near the South Carolina/Georgia border.

In an appearance before the Sales Tax Commission on May 24, Smith told the panel about his and Haskell’s plan to offer the resolution during the first of County Council’s two June meetings. He also asked the panel to make changes to County Council’s list of Sales Tax IV projects if that resolution failed.

Smith believes the Sales Tax Commission is authorized to take such an action.

The Sales Tax Commission’s chairman, Mark Gibson, told Smith “we’ll discuss that (making changes) if a motion is made by a Commission member.”

Asked what he planned to do during Thursday’s Sales Tax Commission meeting, Smith said, “I don’t know that I’ll have a chance to speak to them again, but if I do have that chance, then I certainly will express my viewpoint.”

For Sales Tax IV to take effect, voters must approve it during the November general election. The Sales Tax Commission’s main purpose is to formulate the ballot question for the Sales Tax IV referendum.

Smith told the Sales Tax Commission on May 24 and has said since that the $2.5-million allocation for gateway improvements must be on the County’s list of projects for him to support Sales Tax IV.

Without the gateway improvement money included, Smith said, projects in his and Haskell’s districts would be receiving a tiny portion (less than $2 million) of the County’s $75.3 million estimated share of Sales Tax IV funds.

“It’s an issue of fairness,” said Smith on Wednesday. “You’ve got some members on Council that just don’t want to see anything on this side of the county (where North Augusta is located).”

One of Smith’s targets for upgrades is the U.S. Route 1/U.S. Route 78/Atomic Road interchange.

Included in the City of North Augusta’s list of Sales Tax IV projects is a $3-million allotment for gateway improvements.

During County Council’s meeting Tuesday at the Government Center, Councilman Phil Napier said spending money for equipment and vehicles for first responders was more important to him than funding gateway corridor improvements. He also said that “state money” could be used for the upgrades that Smith wants.

Councilman Willar Hightower said that, in his opinion, the needs of Aiken County’s Public Works Department and the Aiken County Sheriff’s Office were higher priorities than gateway improvements.