Special tax district debate

Sea Pines official: Homeowners 'will not pay a penny' to dredge Harbour Town

Residents say they've been left in dark over special tax district

July 11, 2011 

Sea Pines homeowners will not be asked to "pay a penny" for the next round of dredging at Harbour Town Yacht Basin but could be asked to pay to remove silt from the community's other waterways, a plantation official said Thursday.

Mike Hellman, president of the Sea Pines property owners association, told a crowd of more than 200 Monday at Sea Pines Center that boat slip owners and Sea Pines Resort "will pay the entire fee" for the next round of dredging at the private marina.

Slip owners are negotiating with Calibogue Cay homeowners for one-time use of an upland site where dredge spoil would be dumped. That would require unanimous approval of those homeowners, officials said.

"We hope to have a formal approval from them in the next two to three weeks," said Cary Kelley, executive vice president of Community Services Associates, the group that maintains Sea Pines' common property.

Homeowners could still be asked to help pay to dredge South Beach marina, Calibogue Cay and Braddock Cove and Baynard Cove creeks through a special tax district, Hellman said.

Hellman and Kelley tried to allay homeowners' concerns about a resolution passed May 24 at a joint meeting of the boards of the property owners association and CSA. That resolution aimed to encourage a change to state law that would allow the Hilton Head Island Town Council to create a special tax district encompassing Sea Pines.

Monday's forum was organized by Sea Pines residents who said they're dismayed plans for the tax district progressed so far without their input. Many also said they oppose paying a special assessment for dredging Sea Pines waterways, arguing it would mostly benefit tourists and businesses while property owners bear the brunt of the cost.

"I don't think we should invite another taxing entity into Sea Pines," said Sea Pines resident Ruth Ryan. "I'm very unhappy this was railroaded through without our knowledge."

Setting up the tax district would require not only Town Council support, but a change in state law, as well. Currently, money raised in such "municipal improvement districts" can be used only for dredging "canals." A bill sponsored by Rep. Andy Patrick, R-Hilton Head Island, adds the words "and waterways," allowing money to be spent on dredging marinas, too.

Patrick's bill 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.

If it passes and if the Town Council approved the tax district, money for dredging the plantation's waterways -- including its private marinas -- would be raised by charging Sea Pines residents according to their property's proximity to dredging sites. Boat slip owners in marinas would pay the most, while residents farthest from the waterways would pay the least.

Sea Pines officials assured Monday's crowd that Sea Pines property owners would be able to vote on the tax district, a pledge repeated by town councilman and Sea Pines resident George Williams Jr.

"There will be no (tax district) in Sea Pines without a vote," Williams said.

CSA and property owner's association officials argue that if Sea Pines' waterways aren't dredged and are forced to close, the community's property values will fall -- some say by as much as one-third.

Their resolution has not been presented to the town or Beaufort County, which are asked to lead in the long-term planning for dredging in Sea Pines.

The South Island Dredging Association, made up of slip owners and residents in Sea Pines, has a dredging permit that expires December 2012 but does not have a disposal permit.

Private groups have paid for dredging in the past, but costs have increased so much they say they no longer can afford it. The last round of dredging in Sea Pines, in 2003, cost about $2.5 million and was paid for by Sea Pines marina owners, businesses, boaters and homeowners along the waterways.

It will cost an estimated $1.5 million to dredge Harbour Town and $7 million to $15 million to dredge all of Sea Pines waterways. The difference depends mostly on how the dredge spoil would be disposed.

Follow staff writer Tom Barton at twitter.com/EyeOnHiltonHead.

Related Content:

Sea Pines residents alarmed by community dredging resolution: July 8, 2011

http://www.islandpacket.com/2011/07/08/1719414/sea-pines-residents-alarm...

Bill would let town create tax district for Sea Pines to pay for dredging: April 22, 2011

http://www.islandpacket.com/2011/04/22/1629894/bill-would-let-town-creat...

Town Council approves $25K dredging study for Sea Pines: March 15, 2011

http://www.lowcountrynewspapers.net/archive/2011/03/15/story/town-counci...

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