Tuesday’s first editorial:
Today, the Georgetown County Council will discuss and hopefully vote on the first step toward increasing the county’s sales tax by 1 percent to pay for capital projects, with dredging the port’s channel at the top of the list.
If the county’s leaders believe it will truly help the community and want the port dredged, this is the only realistic way of paying for it that has been proposed in recent years. Without more traffic, the port has not been able to move up on the Army Corps of Engineers’ priority list. Previous attempts to beg our congressmen for earmarks first didn’t pay off and then were stymied by congressional moratoriums on earmarks. Local funding may very well be the last option available.
Importantly, a vote by the council to support the idea would still be only a preliminary step toward putting the higher tax in place. Assuming it survives to that point, the county’s voters would ultimately have to approve the tax increase in November’s general election. The approach is a good one that puts the power in residents’ hands.
If the effort survives Tuesday’s vote, port supporters have a long public relations effort ahead of them to convince voters in November. Port dredging will not be cheap or quick. A corps estimate in late 2009 put the cost at $32.7 million over three years, and even after the channel is restored to its authorized depth, maintenance dredging would be required every year, costing another $5 million to $6 million.
But dredging boosters do have some numbers of their own to rely on. A 2009 economic impact study determined that every 500,000 tons of cargo moving through the port adds about $4.4 million to the local economy. The port has already been experiencing a welcome increase in freight, with tonnage up more than threefold this fiscal year over the previous year. The hope is that a deeper channel will cause those numbers to increase even more substantially.
Georgetown leaders have been right to be slow and deliberate in their move toward increasing local taxes. Raising the burden on citizens should not be a snap decision in order to quickly solve a problem. But in this case, it would be a valid and acceptable choice to solve a persistent quandary of public infrastructure, particularly as the final decision would be up to the public that would benefit from increase port traffic. The way seems clear. Approve today’s resolution, and then get to work making the case for November.