Dorchester County, SC (WCBD) – The South Carolina Supreme Court is reversing a circuit court’s decision in a case between Dorchester County Council, the Dorchester County Taxpayers Association and other groups.
This case concerned the validity of a referendum question, passed during the 2016 elections, which granted the Dorchester County Council authority to issue up to $30 million in bonds for library facilities and up to $13 million for recreational facilities.
Finding there was no indication the voters did not understand it, the circuit court determined it was not improper. Because the question contained two separate bond proposals and required voters to support both or neither, the Supreme Court is now ruling that it was unlawful.
“There might be one or two things on any given ballot that are good ideas and then there may be one real bummer of an idea. But if you throw all three together you don’t get to vote on that one that 80 or 90 percent of the people think, ‘Wow that stinks!” said John Braund, the chairman of the taxpayers association.
The Supreme Court says if there are two or more separate and distinct propositions to be voted on, each proposition should be stated separately, so voters can declare their opinion as to each matter separately.
“We’re very pleased,” said Braund.
County Councilman Jay Byars said he was disappointed in the ruling and believes residents have lost out because of the amount of time the lawsuit took.
“Really disappointed in the amount of time it took to get this,” said Byars. “If this were to come back last year we could have already had a referendum put out but also just disappointed because at the end of the day the citizens voted for this, they want to see it. We’re going to split the question up, that’s fine, but you really have a small group of people that just don’t want to pay for anything. It’s a political game… This has only hurts the citizens in the short-term but we will get this done.”
But Braund said the taxpayers association had asked council to make the bond proposals as two separate issues but council refused.
“They brought it on themselves,” said Braund.
Councilman Larry Hargett Councilman said he asked council to separate the two bond proposals as two separate questions back in 2016. Hargett said he asked his then state Senator Paul Thurmond, to request the state Attorney General for his opinion on the legality of the referendum.
“The Attorney General came back and said Dorchester County we believe you’ve errored,” said Hargett. “I went back to council and asked could we change this to two questions and council’s decision was no.”
Councilman Hargett said he supports the referendum and hopes the residents can vote again soon on the two separate issues.
Councilman Byars said that the Attorney General’s opinion was issued too late on September 30, 2016 because the bond referendum question had to be approved to be approved by county council 90 days before the election, on November 8, 2016.
Byars said the new referendum will likely be placed on the ballot in November.