Mayor Speaks Out on Capital Project Sales Tax

Laurens Mayor Nathan Senn Thursday released a statement with his concerns about the Capital Projects Sales Tax that Laurens County residents will be voting on November 3rd. It follows, in its entirety:

I have held back about this, quietly supporting the “Yes to Invest” effort, but I believe the time has come to speak plainly. As a voting citizen of Laurens, I believe strongly in the absolute necessity of this Capital Projects Sales Tax because I know what is at stake. As Mayor of the City of Laurens, I know the potential investments in our community which will not occur if some of these CPST projects don’t happen. Some of these facts I cannot share at this time, but there is more than just the 16 CPST projects that hang on the outcome of this vote. Let’s not look back in regret and say, “if I had only known.”

I also know that many of the most vocal critics of this sales tax are the same folks that helped dig the hole that we now find ourselves in by kicking the can down the road rather than investing in some of these necessities along and along. Now they are asking us to kick the can again. And just because THEY can’t see the strategic value in all of the projects, or because they don’t live in the community where a project is located, they want us to think this will be money wasted. Well, where has their way of thinking gotten us? Enough is enough.

It is time to get out of our own way, see the value that this has brought to other communities, and do what needs to be done to finally pay the past due bills of our necessities and invest strategically so that we grow and remain competitive. Laurens didn’t dream up this scheme to hoodwink its people out of their pennies. It is a tool that other communities – nearly all of our neighboring counties – have used very, very successfully. If we believe that we should try to run our government more like a small business, then ask yourself, what business never improves its product and expects to remain competitive? To grow, we must improve. It’s just that simple.

We cannot cut our way to raising these funds, and if you tried, none of us would want to live in the stark, barren, husk of a county that was left over. The reason some of the necessities on the capital projects list have not already been done is because they take a significant investment. And that investment, if paid by regular property taxes, would have to be taken away from essential services like our police and fire. We already struggle to retain emergency service personnel with the existing budget. Imagine if we had to find millions of dollars more to cut. We cannot wish away these expenses, though some have tried. Voting “No” will not make them vanish. It simply means the can is kicked further down the road, increasing the amount of these already past-due bills, and forcing Laurens property owners to foot the entire cost. That’s just irresponsible. Voting “No” is the surest way to ensure that property taxes will have to be raised, even if we only pay for the “necessities” on this list.

Of course, if we only get the necessities – whenever County Council eventually decided to fund them – we would have missed out on the strategic benefits of the “nice to have” projects. Remember, investment in community improvements really isn’t optional either. It’s the necessary cost of remaining competitive. And believe me, we are in competition with other communities across the state! Do you want to attract more business and jobs? Well, we can’t do that if we starve the communities in our county of the funds they need to make infrastructure and quality of life improvements that are attractive to potential employers. This isn’t about everyone just getting something they want. It’s about doing what is necessary to compete.

It is not fiscally conservative to run up higher bills from neglect and kick the can further down the road. It is not fiscally conservative to pass on the opportunity to have 40% of our bills paid by visitors. It is not fiscally conservative to refuse to invest in our community in ways that would cause an exponential return on our investment. It is not fiscally conservative to force an eventual property tax increase on an ever-dwindling population to pay for neglected necessities. It’s not fiscally conservative to ignore the reality that, like it or not, sooner or later, the money will have to come from somewhere. The question is, do you want everyone to pitch in a little (an average of $3.26 per month) with 40% paid by visitors, or do you want to force property tax payers to pay the whole bill?

This referendum is the fairest, most fiscally conservative way to pay our long-overdue bills, to invest strategically, and to encourage growth by remaining competitive. It’s just common sense. We’ve heard the critics. We tried it their way. It’s time to learn from mistakes, see the positive experience of our neighboring counties and do what works. Please, vote “Yes.”

– Nathan Senn