Sales Tax Proposal forces Chapin to Assess its Future

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Lexington County’s potential sales tax increase has highlighted Chapin’s debate about what it wants to be. There’s consensus on the need to upgrade the roads, especially the main route into the once-rural town now surrounded by suburbia. But how to pay for it is the issue.


By Zach Newcastle
November 6, 2014

 

Lexington County’s push to raise its sales tax has forced some Chapin residents to take a hard look at their town.

Some see it as an opportunity to improve inadequate infrastructure and try to keep Chapin’s small-town charm while accommodating the area’s booming population. Others see the proposed tax increase as a line in the sand, an opportunity to take a stand against taxation.

Chapin’s population has doubled to almost 1,500 during the past 14 years as suburbia, attracted by nearby Lake Murray, has spread to the area about 25 miles northwest of downtown Columbia. Thousands more live just outside the town’s borders.

Change to Chapin is inevitable, said Jerry Mitchell, director of the Center for Excellence for Geographic Research at USC.

“This is part of something they can’t control,” Mitchell said. “It’s a double-edged sword; they want to be an attractive area, but things are going to change.”

Patricia Lewandowski, a retired teacher who lives on the lake, can trace her ancestry back to the German Lutheran settlers of what was then Dutch Fork. Her father, Addison Bostain Jr., co-authored a book on Chapin’s first 100 years.

And for Lewandowski, Columbia Avenue, the town’s gateway to Interstate 26 that increasingly is choked with traffic, symbolizes Chapin’s challenges. If the tax increase passes, almost $27 million would be spent to widen the two-lane road to five lanes.

“It needs to be done,” Lewandowski said. “The traffic is so bad right now; this is the right thing for Chapin.”

Audio
Hear Chapin real estate agent Brandon Liles talk about holding local government accountable.
Hear Karen Owens, Chapin’s communications and economic development manager, discuss Chapin’s growth.
Documents
Read more on the history of Chapin from the official town website.
Read a more detailed breakdown of Chapin’s population from the Central Midlands Council of Governments. (PDF)

But real estate agent Brandon Liles says enough is enough when it comes to taxation: “Enough people are hurting as it is. How can we afford another tax?”

Liles, an agent for Exit Reality, grew up in nearby Irmo and remembers when Harbison Boulevard, now one of the Midlands’ biggest shopping areas, was a field. He sees Chapin’s growth as an opportunity to improve the infrastructure but thinks the town is going about it the wrong way.

Chapin, with its $1.4 million yearly budget, should make the same kinds of decisions residents have to in tough times, Liles said, and “if the town really wants to improve the roads, they should find somewhere in the budget where they can cut back.”

Liles also says raising the sales tax is counterproductive.

“You’re asking the voters to impose a tax on themselves when we are already paying taxes to maintain our infrastructure,” Liles said. “I don’t really understand how anybody can be for that philosophically.”

Jeremy Martin, a friend of Liles’ and former Chamber of Commerce chairman, says Chapin can take steps like supporting the sales tax increase to adjust to change or be run over.

“Change is coming,” Martin said. “We need to make plans for it.”

USC’s Mitchell also says that to preserve its charm, Chapin can organize focus groups and create comprehensive plans and that it can enact ordinances limiting the changes that can be made to historic buildings.

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