Early Monday morning, a curious alliance of Spartanburg’s political spheres presented their unified support for the new “Penny Tax,” a temporary 1% increase in the county’s sales tax, being offered for the consideration of the voting public. The funds obtained via the new tax would be used solely for the purpose of building a new courthouse.  Standing in the cold air in Morgan Square was Allen Smith, President of the Spartanburg Chamber of Commerce; Shelly Roehrs, chairman of the county Democratic Party; Josh Kimbrell, Chairman of the county Republican Party; and Karen Martin, president of the county’s Tea Party organization.

 

The condition of the court house has been a looming problem for over a decade, put off and kicked down the road one year after another, culminating in today’s multitude of issues including overcrowding, hazardous mold in the walls and floors, and the security hazard presented by proximity of jurors and citizens involved in family court with individuals considered dangerous. It seems that almost everyone agrees on the need for a new courthouse structure.  The question is:  how will we pay for it?

Proponents of the 1% sales tax argue that the need for funding is urgent and that it is necessary to a core government function. The bill has been written so as to provide a few reassurances:  it directs the additional revenue specifically to the courthouse project and it has a ‘sunset’ date built in, at which time the tax rate will return to its present level.

There are, however, those standing against the measure. Those opposed to the tax increase have argued that the county could cut costs elsewhere, adjust business tax rates, or hold court in an existing building that could be bought or leased.  Private fund-raising and voluntary donations have been suggested, but the a prominent concern of local Republican supporters is that a failure to fully fund the new courthouse would invite an increase to property taxes in Spartanburg, which would likely be difficult to reduce and would not go to a public vote.

There is little time left to make a decision, as the vote is on Tuesday, November 7th. Voters in Spartanburg should consider visiting their polling place to decide, as a community, how this problem should be solved, and if they are willing to accept the so-called “Penny Tax.”