Beaufort County Council approves tax hike for schools

cconley@islandpacket.comAugust 27, 2012 

Col. John Payne, left, of the Beaufort Military Enhancement Committee, gives Beaufort County Council members an update on how possible military cuts would affect bases in Beaufort County.

CASEY CONLEY

  • Beaufort County Council voted Monday to name the access road to the new $11.1 million St. Helena library under construction for Jonathan Francis Sr. Francis was the first African-American principal of the Penn School and the first principal of the consolidated St. Helena High School.

Property-tax bills mailed out in October will be a little higher for some Beaufort County property owners -- but not as high as initially proposed.

As expected, the Beaufort County Council approved a tax increase Monday, ending its nearly three-month review of the school district's 2012-13 budget. The tax hike was half as much as the district initially sought in the $177.9 million budget that County Council endorsed in June.

"I applaud the county for doing this," school board Chairman Fred Washington Jr. said after the 7-4 vote to set the higher tax rate. "We will continue to be under scrutiny, and we are going to make the best out of resources given to us.

"I don't like tax increases ... but we have been cut to the bone."

The school budget County Council approved in June included $1.8 million for a controversial iPad program and funding for 2 percent state-mandated teacher raises. It also eliminated 30 positions and required a tax increase to make ends meet.

The school district later pledged to use about $2.2 million in additional state aid to cut the tax hike in half and also add to its cash reserves. The result for a non-owner-occupied home valued at $250,000 will be a property-tax bill that's about $15 higher than last year. Under state law, owner-occupied homes cannot be taxed for school district operations.

County Council, which has discussed the school budget since May, cannot force specific changes to the budget but sets a spending cap and the tax rate.

There was little debate Monday on the overall merits of the budget or the tax increase.

Jocelyn Staigar of the Hilton Head Island Association of Realtors was the only member of the public to speak on the issue. She warned that higher taxes would dampen investment and lead more second-home owners to designate local properties as their primary residence to pay a lower tax rate. Others, she said, would sell and go elsewhere.

Council Chairman Weston Newton, while praising the school district's recent gains, reiterated Monday that he felt it imprudent to raise taxes during a down economy. He was joined by Steve Baer, Jerry Stewart and Brian Flewelling in casting a dissenting vote.

Related content:

School board lowers proposed tax increase, approves superintendent search procedures, Aug. 7, 2012

Beaufort County officials optimistic school tax increase will be blunted, July 18, 2012

Council approves school district's budget, tax increase, June 26, 2012

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