Richland County fires director of embattled penny tax program

·1 min read

The director of Richland County’s transportation department, which has been at the forefront of county controversy, was fired Wednesday afternoon, according to emails sent to council members.

Now-former Director Michael Niermeier was terminated by Administrator Leonardo Brown.

No exact reason for Neirmeier’s firing was given in the emails but Brown said that he would “continue to move forward with the transition process by hiring a Professional Engineer to lead the Transportation Department.”

Neirmeier led the county’s scandal-ridden Penny Transportation Program since 2018. Many of the program’s troubles started before Neirmeier’s time.

Started after a penny tax referendum passed in 2012, the program is meant to improve roads and sidewalks and create greenways. But it’s been marred by lawsuits over millions in misspending and turnover at the transportation department as well as financial deficiencies.

In December 2015, the S.C. Department of Revenue delivered a letter to county leaders detailing myriad concerns with the county’s handling of the program, such as potential public corruption, fraud and millions of dollars in wasteful and possibly illegal spending of the tax money. A lawsuit followed.

In October 2019, the county took control of the program away from a group of hired contracting companies and brought the program in house. The following May, the county fixed a $154 program budget shortfall by scaling back projects.

In August 2020, the state revenue department ordered Richland County to repay at least $32 million in misused penny tax funds, which happened while being run by the contracting companies. The money was spent on activities and items ranging from public relations to office supplies to coffee.

The State reached out for comment from Richland County but did not hear back before publishing.

This is a breaking news story. Check back for updates.

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