Greenville County Council member Ennis Fant is proposing a $10 increase in the annual road maintenance fee for registered vehicle owners across the county, but Fant sees the increase as a temporary stopgap measure.
Fant’s ordinance, which calls for a public hearing for residents at the Nov. 1 county council meeting, would increase the annual fee to $25 per vehicle. Fant said he would use that fee increase as motivation for voters to pass the penny sales tax he plans to propose to county council next year.
If voters ultimately pass that penny sales tax — and it would require a public vote on a referendum, not just council approval — Fant said, council members would lower the road toll to the $15 where it now stands.
“The $10 is just a carrot,” Fant said.
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Why increase the road toll in Greenville now?
Fant’s proposed increase comes because the county’s road infrastructure budget does not meet demand for repairs and maintenance. Greenville County’s more than 1,800-mile road system is currently underfunded at an annual level of $12 million, according to an analysis report included in Fant’s ordinance.
Conducted by Infrastructure Management Services, the report estimates that $18.8 million to $21.3 million is needed annually to adequately maintain the road system.
The county’s road network is moderately old, growing at about 20 miles each year, according to Fant’s proposed ordinance. Almost half of the county’s roads are currently classified as being in very poor to fair condition.
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“We’re not paving enough to keep up with the miles that are added each year,” said Fant.
The proposed $10 increase would generate $14 million annually under the regulation. That would allow the district to pave about 42 miles of road per year, Fant said.
But that’s not enough.
According to estimates in the ordinance, there would still be a deficit of at least $4 million between the funds available and the amount needed for adequate maintenance. That’s why Fant proposes the fee as a temporary solution and a way to bolster support for the penny sales tax.
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A one-cent sales tax in Greenville County could bring in nearly $90 million annually, Fant said.
For Fant, it’s a missed opportunity for Greenville to be one of only three counties in the state without such a sales tax while also witnessing the scale of growth that is there and more to come.
“There’s no way we can be the largest county in Greenville and not have a sales tax,” he said.
Greenville County residents would have to vote for the tax in a referendum that Fant hopes to see on the ballot in 2024.
Fant’s plans for the tax are tightly focused. The money generated by the tax would only be used for county-wide infrastructure improvements and would not be given to outside organizations or nonprofits, he said.
Fant also said grocery stores would not be included in the tax, and he said it would only apply for seven years. This, Fant said, would allow voters to determine whether the tax actually delivers the promised infrastructure improvements.
Not every member of Greenville County Council wants to collect road tolls
Despite Fant’s long-term plans, not all council members are in favor of increasing road maintenance charges.
Stan Tzouvelekas said the council should not even consider this regulation.
“I’m not for any kind of tax increase, especially at this time when the people of Greenville are doing as poorly as they are,” Tzouvelekas said. “With inflation soaring, commodity prices, interest rates and all, this is not the time to raise taxes on our people.”
Joe Dill agreed, saying it was “bad timing” to consider increasing the fee.
Even so, Fant said he had enough votes to pass the ordinance.
A public hearing and second vote on increasing the road maintenance fee will take place on November 1st. A final vote on the regulation could take place on November 15.
−Tim Carlin reports on county government, growth and development for The Greenville News. Follow him on Twitter @timcarlin_and contact him at TCarlin@gannett.com. You can support his work by subscribing to The Greenville News at greenvillenews.com/subscribe.