Beaufort County Council sets 2013 goals, affirms property tax "roll forward"

cconley@ilsandpacket.comMarch 2, 2013 

Beaufort County Council set ambitious goals for 2013 Saturday, focusing on the region's long-term economic development and infrastructure needs.

These "top priorities," set on what was the final day of a three-day planning retreat, urge definitive action on several fronts, including the Bluffton Parkway realignment project.

The council also wants to study capital spending needs ahead of a possible 2014 referendum and consider future land acquisitions for a possible transfer station, detention center and other facilities.

Ahead of the reassessment that will affect fall property tax bills, the council agreed -- at least initially -- to adjust tax rates upward to offset reduced property values countywide. This process is known as "roll forward" because tax rates rise just enough to bring in the same amount of money as the previous year.

Staff will prepare a budget that assumes a "roll forward." The council could still later trim the budget to help those who would owe more even though their properties are worth less.

The retreat, led by professional facilitator Lyle Sumek, was held at the new St. Helena Library that opened last fall at Penn Center.

Here are the issues council hopes to address in 2013.

  • Solid Waste and Recycling Management: The county envisions building a transfer station to manage its recycling and trash, but permitting and other requirements for the facility can take a decade or more. As a result, creating an "action plan" this year would be an important first step.

  • Bond Referendum for 2014: Facing a host of long-term infrastructure challenges -- road and bridge funding among them -- the council wants to prioritize capital needs and discuss ways to pay for them. Should the council settle on a local-option sales tax, it would need almost a year to refine the plan and get a referendum prepared in time for the 2014 election ballot.

  • Economic Development: Council plans to pursue a wide-ranging strategy that, among other things, will determine whether the county hires an economic development staff, relies on outside contractors or considers a third course. The council, led for now by an economic development subcommittee, also will consider how best to pay for new initiatives.

  • Bluffton Parkway Realignment: With the flyover debate now over, the council now must decide what to do about the proposed $25 million parkway realignment. First up: Do residents actually want it done? If so, the council must decide which of two proposed routes is best and then consider how to pay for the work.

  • Land Bank Program: The county expects to need a new detention center and law enforcement center, among other buildings. The council wants to look at suitable locations and outline a plan to purchase land well ahead of future construction dates.

  • While those are the council's top priorities, they are by no means all it wants to accomplish in 2013.

    Other goals include adding hours to the county's library branches, evaluating business license fees and finding a permanent answer to the Daufuskie Island ferry issue.

    Follow reporter Casey Conley at twitter.com/IPBG_Casey.

    Related content: County council retreat produces 10 top priorities, Feb. 18, 2012

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