A group of homeowners in Sea Pines is concerned that the community's leaders are pushing for a special tax district to pay for dredging the community's waterways without getting residents' input first.
They also have questions about a $21 million enhancement plan in the works called "Roadmap 2020." They want to know how it will be paid for and who -- property owners or tourists -- will benefit.
Alarm among some Sea Pines residents prompted them to organize a forum Monday at the community center. They invited representatives of Community Services Associates, the group that maintains Sea Pines' common assets, and officials from the property owners' association, to answer questions.
Resident Karl Engelman said interest in the meeting increased after Sea Pines officials' sent out an email and posted on Sea Pines' website a notice stating that neither the property owner's association nor CSA was holding a meeting on Monday.
"People are getting angrier about this because they understand what they're trying to do -- pull a fast one," Engelman said.
CSA executive vice president Cary Kelley said the notice was posted simply to make it clear that residents, not Sea Pines officials, organized the meeting.
Residents are particularly concerned about a proposed resolution, passed May 24 at a joint meeting of the boards of the property owners association and CSA. The resolution is aimed at changing state law to allow the Hilton Head Island Town Council to create a special tax district encompassing Sea Pines. If the council approved the tax district, money for dredging Sea Pines' waterways -- including its privately-owned marinas -- would be raised by assessing property owners.
Several waterways in Sea Pines are clogged with silt, making it difficult for boats to get in or out at low tide. About 323,700 cubic yards of muck must be dredged from the Harbour Town and South Beach marinas, Calibogue Cay, and Braddock Cove and Baynard Cove creeks. The problem has been discussed for years, with little progress made toward a solution.
It's not yet known how much residents would have to pay -- and won't be for some time, said John McLauchlin, president of the CSA board. The total cost of the dredging, however, is expected to range from $7 million to $15 million. The difference depends mostly on how the dredged muck would be disposed of.
Setting up the tax district would not only require Town Council support, but also a change in state law. Current law states money raised in such tax districts -- called municipal improvement districts -- can be used for dredging "canals." A bill sponsored by Rep. Andy Patrick, R-Hilton Head Island, would add the words "and waterways," allowing money to be spent on dredging marinas, too.
Patrick's bill easily passed the House of Representatives in April but stalled in a Senate committee. It's expected to be taken up again in January, when the legislature reconvenes.
Emails have flown back and forth among skeptical residents who say the plans for the tax district should not have progressed so far without notification to the community from CSA and the property owners association. The residents say they knew nothing of the plans until they read the minutes of a meeting held in late June.
Now they want to make sure that they get a chance to vote on the tax district before plans go any further.
"We want to vote on the resolution before they send it to the Town Council -- not after," said one resident, who asked that his name not be published.
The resolution does call for a vote by residents: The town would establish the tax district "if requested by the CSA and (the property owners board) after CSA conducts an advisory vote of all Sea Pines property owners and receives the approval ... from a majority of those voting," it states.
However, Patrick said his bill wouldn't require a vote, although he is "quite confident" that the Senate will add language to make a vote mandatory.
McLauchlin said the resolution is merely a starting point for discussion with town and county officials.
Money for dredging would be raised by charging Sea Pines residents "varying assessments" depending on how close they live to dredged waterways, according to the resolution. Boat slip owners in marinas would pay the most while resident farthest from waterways would pay the least.
Sea Pines resident Pat Jinkins said the meeting scheduled for Monday snowballed because of concern and confusion.
"How it started was people were asking questions and we all realized we didn't know very much," said Jinkins, a former CSA board member herself.
Leaders of CSA and the property owners association initially were reluctant to attend the meeting. They were concerned because the number of attendees "grew out of control," McLauchlin said. As of Friday, some were expected to be there to answer residents' questions.
"It seems like some of the property owners misunderstood and think they'll be faced with decisions and actions right now with no opportunity to talk about it," McLauchlin said.
Sea Pines resident and Town Councilman George Williams said Town Council had not received a copy of the resolution.
"Quite frankly, all this rhetoric going around is so premature because no decisions have been made," he said. "Not a single person, including at CSA or anywhere else, knows exactly where this is going to go."Money raised in the tax district would only fund dredging -- not anything in the "Roadmap 2020" plan, the community enhancement plan, said Kelley, the CSA vice president.
Most residents understand that, Engelman said, but the question of payment unites the two issues. Residents opposed to the enhancement plan fear it will bring more day-trippers to Sea Pines, which would benefit the community's private interests at the expense of residents, he said.
McLauchlin said explanations to allay fears on both the dredging proposal and Roadmap 2020 will be posted on the Sea Pines website at www.seapinesliving.com. Kelley also hosts monthly meetings with residents at which he can explain the issues, he said.
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