SC orders Richland County to pay back $32M from penny tax

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina tax collectors are ordering Richland County to repay more than $32 million that authorities said was not properly spent from a penny sales tax meant to improve roads.

Some county leaders said they plan to fight the ruling from the state Revenue Department, which said the excessive expenses included $20 million spent on project managers and nearly $1 million on public relations.

The state agency said the county should pay the $32 million back to the penny tax fund. The state has specific rules for how the money raised by the tax is spent.

County voters approved the 1% sales tax in 2012 to improve roads throughout the county. The state audited expenses through mid-2018.

Richland County had to pare down the list of roads to expand and build by more than $150 million after cost overruns.

Richland County Council Chairman Paul Livingston said the program was modeled after Charleston County, which has not been audited. Beaufort and York counties also have penny taxes for roads.

“Richland County plans to seek all remedies available to it to ensure that the integrity of its transportation improvement program remains sound," Livingston said in his statement.