County Council committees to discuss accommodations tax, 2014 referendum ballot

zmurdock@beaufortgazette.comDecember 2, 2013 

BCGOV.NET

Beaufort County Council spent its first day back from the holiday discussing a handful of issues for the coming year, including ideas for a 2014 referendum ballot and an update on the county's partnership with the Lowcountry Economic Alliance.

On Monday, county administrator Gary Kubic urged the council's governmental committee to think creatively about the kinds of projects, such as a one-cent sales tax, that could be part of a referendum on the 2014 ballot.

A referendum could be a successful way to improve the county independent of any state or federal aid, he said.

"In my opinion, the probability (of getting state or federal aid) is slim to none," Kubic said. "We have a chance to elevate our community on our own without looking for assistance from the state or federal government."

Kubic lauded the success of the one-cent sales tax referendum approved in 2007 for road construction, despite the nationwide economic collapse that followed.

"(Then) we had one of the worst economic declines in our nation's history; that's a fact," Kubic said. "So how did it affect the sales tax collection referendum? It did not. Every single quarter of collection exceeded its original estimate."

Over five years, that referendum generated $152 million for road projects, Kubic said. Paired with some form of bonding, a similar referendum approved in next year's election could generate as much as $350 million over five years, he said.

That money could be split any number of ways, councilman Jerry Stewart said. The money raised by a referendum is spent according to certain stipulations, but the county could identify a variety of projects to funnel referendum-generated money to, he said.

At this point, the ideas are essentially limitless -- from an arena for possible boat shows, to a competition-sized pool at the University of South Carolina Beaufort, to archeological studies and history preservation projects, Kubic said.

Council members did not vote on any ideas at Monday's governmental committee meeting, but Stewart, the committee's chairman, charged the group with compiling a list of projects to consider at its next meeting in January.

ALLIANCE PARTNERSHIP

In addition, Lowcountry Economic Alliance Director Kim Statler updated council members on the county's $190,000 partnership with the alliance.

The council approved the agreement in September, which provides funding for six projects designed to improve the county's business recruitment and economic development capabilities.

The agreement includes $85,000 to study properties along county highways to create an inventory of possible sites for businesses, and $30,000 to create a marketing plan to inform local businesses about economic development strategies.

The alliance has already received proposals for the first study and is accepting proposals for the marketing plan, Statler said. The group intends to hire a contractor by the end of the year and begin developing both projects in January, she said.

In addition, Statler said the group has met with online commercial real estate listing services LoopNet and CoStar to link Beaufort County listings with the alliance's website in real time.

"We'll have intellectual capital for the first time to interconnect those two," Statler said. "Effectively what it does, it allows us to dump in all of our commercial or industrial properties onto our website."

By connecting the services, the alliance website can become a central source for the nearly 470 available commercial, office and industrial properties in Beaufort County, alliance director Jessica Bridges said.

In other action, the council's finance committee was scheduled to discuss its reserve policy, but pushed the discussion to the next finance committee meeting at 3 p.m. Monday in the executive conference room at the county administration building at 100 Ribaut Road in Beaufort.

Follow reporter Zach Murdock at twitter.com/IPBG_Zach.

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