Columbia, SC (WLTX) - A penny tax that could help fund the bus system, as well as help improve roadways, could be on the November ballot for voters in Richland County.
County Council approved the second reading Tuesday night with a 9 to one vote after a public hearing.
"We got a lot of calls in the past couple of days, we were encouraging people to come tell their stories. 'I'd love to come, I'm handicapped, I ride the bus. I can't come to the public hearing because the buses don't run after 6:30," Brett Bursey, head of SC Progressive Network told council from the podium.
For many Richland County residents that spoke, a community without a bus system - or even one that permanently has the cutbacks that CMRTA does right now - was not somewhere they would want to live. Said one woman, who uses a walker, "I'm walking home from WA Perry to Five Points because there's no bus system. I can't get to church on Sundays because there's no bus system."
There were only a couple of speakers who didn't agree with adding the tax to the ballot. "I'm only opposed to the sales tax. I'm not opposed to the buses," said one, "I think that the buses are being used by other forces in the county that simply want to raise our taxes.
For the most part, friends and neighbors agreed that it should be up for their vote. One man told council, "Twenty years from now, maybe many of you can walk with your grandchildren to the bus stop and it's running every 15 minutes, and you don't stand in the rain and 90 degree weather. Please help each and every citizen."
Council agreed too. They approved the second reading of adding the referendum to the November ballot.
If passed in a third reading and approved by voters, the penny tax would last for 20 years. Twenty-five percent would go to the bus system, 71 percent to roads in Richland County and 4 percent to bike paths and walkways. Said one resident, "In order for us to honestly continue to talk about the progression of the county and the city, we have to include a viable public transit system."
The third reading will be held at the July 18th council meeting.
Council discussed the proposal amongst themselves after the public spoke out. And that lone vote against adding it to the ballot was Councilman Bill Malinowski, who had several questions about how it would work.