on July 25, 2006 by in Uncategorized, Comments (0)

High court slaps county

COLUMBIA — Oconee County cannot use ad valorem taxes to fund sewer and water infrastructure.

The South Carolina Supreme Court has upheld an earlier circuit court ruling stating that and has told the county to pay the court fees of the woman who made it an issue.

“It’s been a long, hard haul, but I feel vindicated today,” commented Mountain Rest resident Susie Cornelius.

Cornelius, who is currently running for the State House of Representatives, sued the county nearly two years ago, arguing that the county could not use general fund revenues to fund I-85 sewer expansion projects.

A circuit court ruled that she was correct when she claimed that only grants, user fees and bonds funded by user fees could be used for such work based on an existing county referendum.

The county appealed. In February the Supreme Court intervened to say it wanted to hear the case. Monday the court upheld the lower court ruling.

“A county’s general taxing authority does not trump the constitutional requirement that electors approve the operation of sewer services by referendum,” the court said.

Earlier, Cornelius’ attorney, Jim Carpenter, paraphrased the ruling saying that the county can’t change the rules after a referendum without having another referendum.

As for Cornelius, she said she expected to win and, further, she was convinced the county knew its appeal was going to fail.

“I don’t think the county expected to win,” she said Monday. “The way they were starting to structure things pretty much said they didn’t expect to win.”

The county is now hoping that state-approved grant funding for the I-85 sewer expansion can be supplemented by revenues from a one-cent sales tax referendum county voters will be deciding this November. While the county hopes to get $1.5 million in that way, the county has also pigeon-holed a like amount from a Duke Energy tax windfall to be used on the project.

Cornelius, however, said if the one-cent referendum fails the any improvements along I-85 will have to be paid for by users.

“The county has used a user-pay system all over the rest of the county and that’s the same way these improvements should be funded,” she said.

“My contention from the beginning has been that the people in district 1, where I live, (on the opposite side of the county) are good ecologically friendly people. It’s not that I’m opposed to progress, but we don’t need to fill the county with water and sewer infrastructure. We have waterfalls, and hiking trails and rivers and you couldn’t buy that for a billion dollars. What are we thinking?” she asked.

The circuit court awarded Cornelius $9.450 in attorney fees. The Supreme Court ordered the money paid.

Cornelius said she has no idea when she will get the money.