Voters asked to continue funding land-preservation program

pdonohue@beaufortgazette.com
843-706-8152
October 28, 2012 

  • A referendum on Daufuskie Island on Nov. 6 will determine whether residents are willing to pay to improve ferry service. The ballot measure, if approved, would create an islandwide, special-purpose tax district and impose a property tax increase of up to 10 percent. The money raised by the district could only be spent for ferry service. Supporters acknowledge the proposal could be a tough sell in a slumping economy. However, they say ferry service is crucial to economic development. The Daufuskie Island referendum to create a special purpose tax district reads: Shall there be created a Daufuskie Island Ferry Tax District for purposes of providing public ferry services and shall there be created a Daufuskie Island Ferry Tax District Commission who shall be authorized to recommend a uniform service charge for all property located within the District which shall at no time exceed 16.5 mills? Explanation A vote of YES means the voter is in favor of the creation of a special purpose tax district and commission which will recommend a uniform service charge for all property located within the District which shall at no time exceed 16.5 mills. A vote of NO means the voter is opposed to the creation of a special purpose tax district and commission which will recommend a uniform service charge for all property located within the District which shall at no time exceed 16.5 mills.
  • The countywide referendum on the Rural and Critical Lands program bond reads: Shall Beaufort County, South Carolina issue general obligation bonds, not to exceed $25,000,000, representing a borrowing that at no time shall exceed 1 mill in debt service repayment, for the purpose of land preservation, by purchasing open land, development rights and conservation easements in all areas of Beaufort County, in order to alleviate traffic congestion in high growth areas and to protect water quality, natural lands, wildlife areas, farmland, parkland, recreational areas, coastal areas, rivers and wetlands, provided that all expenditures shall be prioritized based upon an official criteria and ranking system established for the County, and subject to an annual independent audit and provide that an amount not to exceed twenty percent (20%) of the amount borrowed may be spent on improvements, outside the scope of general property maintenance, to those lands which have been acquired by Beaufort County, South Carolina under previous rural and critical lands programs and all such lands acquired under this current proposed borrowing? Explanation A vote of YES means the voter is in favor of the question. i.e., that Beaufort County shall issue general obligation bonds not to exceed $25,000,000 for the purpose of funding open land preservation. A vote of NO means the voter is not in favor of the question, i.e., Beaufort County shall not issue general obligation bonds not to exceed $25,000,000 for the purpose of funding open land preservation.

For the third time since 2000, voters will be asked to decide whether to continue funding Beaufort County’s Rural and Critical Lands program.

A question on the Nov. 6 ballot will ask voters if they’re willing to spend another $25 million on land preservation.

The program has been funded by two previous ballot measures — one in 2000 for $40 million in borrowing and the second in 2006 for another $50 million.

Voters supported both by margins of about 3 to 1, according to county records.

Of the $90 million approved, about $5 million remains. Funds will need to be replenished by 2014 for the program to continue, county officials have said.

Preservation proponents seek permission to spend 20 percent of the borrowed money on property improvements, which could include trails, benches, signs, observation areas and bathrooms.

Last year, the Rural and Critical Lands Board requested 1 mill of property tax be levied annually as additional funding for the program. One mill equals about $4 extra in taxes for every $100,000 of property value on an owner-occupied home, or $6 for every $100,000 of value on a second home or rental property.

County officials have said opportunities abound for land preservation now because of historically low real estate values, cheap borrowing rates and growing public support.

Through conservation easements and outright purchases, the program has protected more than 17,000 acres, including Bluffton Oyster Factory Park, Widgeon Point near Lemon Island, and a new section of Okatie Regional Park near Hampton Parkway.

A handful of those properties have been designated as parks and opened to the public.

Not everyone supports the bond proposal, namely Beaufort County Council candidate Cynthia Bensch, who is running against Dan Duryea to represent District 7. The district includes the Bluffton-Okatie area south of U.S. 278, west of S.C. 170 and north of S.C. 46.

Though she said she supports land preservation, Bensch said, given the economy, the county should not be spending millions on undeveloped property.

“... In our economic crisis, now is not the time to consider a $25 million debt for taxpayers,” Bensch said.

Duryea supports the bond proposal, saying land preservation has been an American ideal since the 1870s.

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