LOCAL GOVERNMENT IN SOUTH CAROLINA LOTS OF GOVERNMENT WITHOUT MUCH POWER BY THE NUMBERS 46 counties ~270 municipalities (towns and cities) 84 school districts Unknown number of special districts
COUNTIES AND HOME RULE Before 1974rule by county delegation After 1974limited home rule Shared responsibilities and unfunded mandates County councils County constitutional officers: electing the probate judge, treasurer, assessor, coroner, sheriff A special relationship: Anderson, Oconee, and Pickens Special tax districts and double taxation
MUNICIPALITIES (A/K/A CITIES AND TOWNS) Great range in size from Charleston to Johnston About 35% of South Carolinians live inside city limits All cities required to have a clerk, most other functions (police, fire, parks, etc.) are optional Incorporation and annexation rules Have more home rule than counties Zoning and land use management City services: the Storrs-Clemson story
SPECIAL DISTRICTS Created before 1974 by legislative action, to provide specific services in unincoporated areas After 1974 county councils could create and oversee special tax districts Bone of contention about management, and an obstacle to municipal expansion No one knows how many, probably at least 500 Most common functions: water and sewer, fire protection, street lights,
recreation SCHOOL DISTRICTS Until the 1950s, there were 1200; no there are 84 through consolidation Legislative control over structure and some functions Different degrees of fiscal autonomy Most boards are elected, but some are not 29 counties have a single district, others range from two to seven Limited coordination among districts: Anderson is an exception
THE ABBEVILLE CASE Corridor of shame 34 districts sued the state in 1993, claiming unequal funding; reduced to eight, spent 21 years bouncing between district court and supreme court 2014 decision directed legislators and plaintiff districts to work out a solution Act 388 (2006) further exacerbated differences in districts in giving homeowners relief from taxes for school operations
PROPERTY TAX RELIEF Elderly, homestead, and school operations (Act 388) Total relief is $1.1 billion, most of it for school operations and to homeowners Elderly first $50,000 of market value is exempt, relief is $182 million Homeowners Part 1 is on the first $100,000 of market value for city, county and school taxes, $256 million Homeowners Act 388 is $662 million, funded in part by a one percent sales tax hike, all goes to schools
HOW SCHOOLS ARE FUNDED 54 percent local, 38 percent state, 8 percent federal $6 billion of the funding comes from the property tax State aid of $4.1 billion includes $1.02 billion in property tax relief and $1.5 billion Education Finance Act EFA (1977) is an equalizing formula, similar to most other states, giving relief on a per pupil bases (adjusted for special needs) with an estimated base student cost that is split on average 70% state and 30% local Actual split depends on index of taxpaying ability; less than 30% for poor district, more for richer districts Act 388 relief was based on house value so more of it went to richer districts, offsetting some of the equalization in EFA which has become a smaller share of total aid
Base student cost is supposed to be adjusted every year for inflation but the legislature just picks a number they think they can afford, so it is usually less than inflation-adjusted FOLLOWING THE MONEY: PROPERTY TAXES Main source of revenue is property taxes: $9.2 billion (excluding special districts), with $5.1 billion going to counties, $8.7 billion to school districts and $2.1 billion to counties State funds include property tax relief of $467 for 2017-18, of which $249 is Act 388 (school districts only) and $218 million is for elderly and disabled (first $100,000 of market value, city, county and schools)
MAKING SENSE OF THE PROPERTY TAX Classified assessment system, ratios are in constitution Assessment is local with state oversight, rolling reassesments, and assessment caps Mill rates are set by locals (with limits and qualifications), they look high compared to other states but only because the assessment rates are so low Credit for local option sales tax in 29 counties A $200,000 owner occupied house would be assessed at 4%, or $8,000, and an average mill rate of 200 would be 20% of that or $1600, minus any credits for tax relief or local sales tax A $200,000 rental house or commercial building would be assessed at 6%, or $12,000, and
get no relief except for sales tax, so the tax bill would be about three times as high OTHER LOCAL TAXES Local option sales tax (29 counties) Local capital project tax (sunsets) Accommodations taxes Hospitality taxes Business licenses ISSUES AND CHALLENGES
The role of the county delegation and limitations on home rule Too much dependence on fees and charges Constraints on the property tax limiting the ability of local governments to manage their finances (fiscal autonomy) State aid to subdivisions Constraints on city growth City-county conflicts Three elected entities tapping same tax base No reliable funding sources for school construction
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