Beaufort must exercise restraint with new dock funds

info@islandpacket.comNovember 1, 2013 

The city of Beaufort staff showed commendable persistence in seeking funding for a proposed downtown day dock. Its effort paid off -- literally -- in a quadrupling of state money for the project.

Now, the city must muster restraint to match its persistence -- Nourished by "found" money, the scale and scope of this project should not mushroom.

The day dock is part of a larger plan for the Beaufort Downtown Marina and was added to the city's Civic Master Plan last year. It calls for a 250-foot day dock along the west end of the seawall in Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park. A conceptual drawing shows the entrance to the day dock on the park sea wall, near the existing pavilion, with two ramps leading to the floating dock.

The plan isn't final, however.

Public works director Isiah Smalls notes the drawings are merely conceptual, drafted to help the city win grants. Conceivably, the plan can be altered quite a bit, which presents both opportunity and temptation.

On one hand, flexibility and open minds could be used to mitigate the concerns of those who opposed the dock's placement along the sea wall, where it might obstruct views or consume too much frontage on the waterfront promenade.

On the other hand, an increase in funding from the S.C. Department of Natural Resources and 3-to-1 matching money from the federal government could induce spasms of opulence and a new day dock that is out of scale or out of keeping with its surroundings.

There are at least three reasons to avoid this.

First, radical departure from what already is in the Civic Master Plan invites a renewed battle over the day dock's placement. Frankly, such a battle is likely to ensue, anyway, but if the city is extravagant, it surrenders any claim to high ground in that matter.

Second, the city must consider the cost to operate and maintain the day dock once it is built. A bigger dock (or one that is more luxuriously appointed) will likely be more expensive to run.

Beaufort should strive for a nice facility, of course. However, decision-makers should hold fresh in mind the city's recent cost-cutting measures, which include a reduction of the amount of landscaping and upkeep of public spaces, including Waterfront Park. A dock that is expensive to maintain is incongruous with those cuts.

Third, and most importantly, there is no such thing as found money.

The S.C. Department of Natural Resources can contribute more than $111,000 to the project, instead of the $27,000 originally committed, by using money allocated to projects that were delayed, canceled or under budget. That means the department doesn't have to raise new taxes or fees to lavish upon Beaufort, but it also means that money won't be returned to the pockets from which it came.

And the federal matching grant? Although it is true Washington, D.C., can create money from thin air without plucking it from someone's wallet, doing so either invites inflation or makes debtors of grandchildren.

Sooner or later, taxpayers somewhere will pay the full freight of our day dock, even if the money seems free to us now.

As such, the city of Beaufort is obligated to spend as if this grant came from its own coffers. It is politically and fiscally obligated to do so, as well.

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