Greenwood County Council on Tuesday passed the third and final reading of an ordinance which will allow the county to become the only one in the state that is debt free.
The measure could potentially save the county hundreds of thousands of dollars in interest by retiring the debt and would free up 6.1 mills in property taxes, which is the portion set aside for debt. The amount of millage returned to taxpayers will be determined in the upcoming budget discussions. County manager Toby Chappell said that each mill would save taxpayers about $4 for a $100,000 home. If all 6.1 mills were returned to the taxpayers, that would translate to about $24 less in property taxes on a $100,000 home.
The funds to retire the debt were taken from money raised by the Capital Project Sales Tax, more commonly referred to as the Penny Tax. The Penny Tax, which was collected from May 2007 through June 2012, generated about $44.3 million. Of that money, $10 million was earmarked for the new library and $15 million was earmarked for two projects at Buzzards Roost Dam. One project was a seismic upgrade which the county appealed and FERC ultimately determined that the project was not necessary. The other project is an upgrade to the fuse plug at the dam which is now estimated to cost about $18 million.
Margaret Pope of Pope Zeigler Law Firm, who is a Greenwood native, told council that the library project cost about $9.4 million and another $3.2 million had been expended from the fund for financing costs and the dam hydro project. After all expenses and the $18 million estimated for the fuse plug upgrade, the county has about $13.7 million left in the fund. The county’s total debt is about $10.5 million. If all the debt is retired, there would be about $3.2 million remaining in the fund.
Pope said some of the county’s bonds would be penalized for early repayment. On those bonds, the funds will be placed in escrow and payments made until the bonds are paid in full. Pope said that, since the money for repayment would be held in escrow, the bond would be considered paid in full.
During a public hearing on March 18, one resident spoke out against retiring the debt. Council ultimately voted unanimously to retire the debt by a vote 0f 6-0, with councilman Robbie Templeton absent from the meeting. Third reading of the ordinance also passed unanimously with a 7-0 vote.
Immediately following the meeting, Chappell and council chairman Mark Allison signed the paperwork to make the debt retirement official.