I want to respond to a recent article in the Aiken Standard regarding the order of completing Capital Project Sales Tax items.
In fact, I asked that a recent South Carolina Attorney General Opinion be discussed at our recent budget work session. It seemed to me, based on my review, that we were not in compliance with the intent of the law.
A quote from the opinion states as follows: “Clearly, the Legislature has tied the imposition of the tax and its utilization to those projects the voters specifically approved and in the order of priority approved by them.” With regard to changing the priority of project completion, the following quote also applies: “Later in the same paragraph the question does state that the priority is subject to change, but that disclaimer appears to justify only changes based on typical unexpected complications of acquisitions and construction or other unforeseen circumstances.”
One final quote is appropriate: “ … it does not appear that funds could be used to acquire only land for a recreational facility where the actual construction of the improvement would be budgeted from a different source of revenue or at a different point in time.”
The City Attorney stated that we are not bound by the Attorney General’s opinion since it is an opinion only.
While it is legal to ignore the opinion, we should not ignore the law as approved by the Legislature. The quotes above lead to the following conclusions:
1. Money received from Capital Project Sales Tax funds may only be used for projects listed and the projects must be completed in the order approved by the voters. Changes can only be made for unforeseen circumstances.
2. The fact that the ballot question gave the Council the right to change the priority order does not change the law. We cannot be arbitrary in setting the order of completion of the projects.
3. In Capital Project Sales Tax Round II and Round III, we should not have listed projects that included only the purchase of land. We were not given proper legal advice on what the law requires.
4. Round II should be completed before we begin Round III.
This issue is too important for the residents of Aiken to be decided by the City Attorney. Council needs to vote to reject this advice and follow the law as written.
Member, Aiken City Council