Richland County Election Problems

By Paul Gable

Richland County Council voted again Tuesday night to delay payments of attorney fees associated with the November 6, 2012 election disaster that kept voters standing in line at polls for six or more hours at some locations.

The council asked its staff lawyer to audit 46 pages of attorney fees, totaling $101,675.80, looking for any charges that should not be attributed to the county. Questions about the county being charged for attorney fees associated with then election director Lillian McBride were raised during the discussion.

McBride resigned her position after catching the flak for the numerous voting regularities associated with the election, which included a referendum on a $1.07 billion capital project sales tax initiative.

The sales tax question was passed by voters after failing by a whisker two years ago. Opponents of the tax claimed McBride was brought in to guarantee passage of the referendum question, attributing the many voting regularities to a plot to get the question passed.

What really happened at the Richland County polls last November will never be completely known. Tax collections associated with the referendum commenced May 1, 2013.

Regardless of the controversy over the polls and the large fees run up by attorneys representing the county so far, the biggest problems, as far as the sales tax is concerned, may lie in the future for Richland County.

The referendum question asked Richland County voters whether they would approve a one-cent local option capital projects sales tax for a period of 22 years or until the tax raised $1.07 billion, whichever came first.

However, state law clearly limits the imposition of a capital project sales tax for a period of eight years. It may only be extended after another referendum approves such an extension.

The applicable section of state law that applies to this limitation is Section 4-10-330(A)(2), which clearly states, “the maximum time, in two-year increments not to exceed eight years from the date of imposition, or in the case of a reimposed tax, a period ending on April thirtieth of an odd-numbered year, not to exceed seven years, for which the tax may be imposed.”

So, how did Richland County impose a 22 year capital projects sales tax with one referendum? Not legally.

And Richland County thought it had problems at the polls.

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