The respondent-county has failed to show that its “road maintenance fee” or its “telecommunications fee” benefits the fee-payers in any manner different from members of the general public. Therefore, the “fees” are actually taxes, which the county was not permitted to impose absent authorization by the General Assembly.
We reverse the determination by the lower court that the ordinances do not violate the law. The ordinances are invalid.
Appellants challenge two Greenville County ordinances. In order to keep up with increased costs of road maintenance, Ordinance 4906 increased the road maintenance fee imposed on the owner of every vehicle registered in Greenville County from $15 to $25 a year. Ordinance 4907 requires the owner of every parcel of real property in Greenville County to pay $14.95 a year for ten years to the Greenville County Tax Collector in order to fund the modernization of the county’s public safety telecommunications infrastructure.
Counties may levy ad valorem property taxes and uniform service charges. Except for value-based property taxes, a county “may not impose a new tax unless specifically authorized by the General Assembly.” S.C. Code Ann. § 6-1-310.
S.C. Code Ann. § 6-1-300(6) defines “service or user fee,” including a uniform service charge, as “a charge required to be paid in return for a particular government service or program made available to the payer that benefits the payer in some manner different from the members of the general public not paying the fee.”
The fact that funds raised under Ordinance 4906 are allocated to road maintenance says nothing of any benefit peculiar to the payer of the fee. Every driver on any road in Greenville County, regardless of what county or state their vehicles are registered in, benefits from the fact that the funds are allocated for road maintenance. While Greenville County residents, who use the roads every day, may derive more benefit from having the roads maintained in good condition, it is still the same benefit every driver gets, no matter where their car is registered.
In Ordinance 4907, the county council described the aged equipment previously used in multiple public safety telecommunication networks, and it stated the new single network would improve the delivery of emergency and public safety communications in multiple ways. But the ordinance says nothing of whether property owners would see any benefits from the new network.
Even if property owners will see benefits, this court has no idea whether the impact is significant enough to affect property value. Simply declaring a fee will enhance property value does not make the property owner paying the fee the beneficiary of some unique benefit, as required by § 6-1-300(6).
Greenville County Ordinances 4906 and 4907 purport to impose a “uniform service charge” on those who are required to pay it. We find the charges are taxes. State law prohibits local government from imposing taxes unless they are value-based property taxes or are specifically authorized by the General Assembly. Neither is true for these two ordinances. Therefore, the ordinances are invalid.
(Kittredge, J.): I write separately to offer two points: (1) Although Brown v. Cty. of Horry, 308 S.C. 180, 182, 417 S.E.2d 565 (1992), may inform the analysis, § 6-1-300(6) is controlling for determining what constitutes a “service or user fee”; and (2) I am hopeful that today’s decision will deter the politically expedient penchant for imposing taxes disguised as “service or user fees.”
Burns v. Greenville County Council (Lawyers Weekly No. 010-038-21, 7 pp.) (John Few, J.) (John Kittredge, J., joined by Donald Beatty, C.J., concurring) Appealed from the Circuit Court in Greenville County (Charles Simmons, J.) Robert Childs and Falkner Wilkes for appellants; Sarah Spruill and Boyd Benjamin Nicholson for respondents. S.C. S. Ct.