Beaufort County considers how to address $27 million in capital needs

zmurdock@beaufortgazette.comMarch 18, 2014 

A leaky roof at the Bluffton branch of the Beaufort County Library, shown here in this file photograph, is one of the capital needs county council members are considering before working on the annual budget.

Paying to renovate government buildings and make other improvements in Beaufort County could require a property tax increase, county officials say.

The county has a list of such projects totaling more than $27 million and needs to figure out how much it should borrow to start work on them by next fiscal year, which begins July 1, deputy county administrator Bryan Hill said at a meeting Monday.

If the county borrowed the entire $27 million at once, it would have to increase its tax rate by 1.35 mills to cover about $2.2 million a year in additional debt service, chief financial officer Alicia Holland said. The increase would cost the owner of a $200,000 home about $11 more in property taxes next year, she said.

Several County Council members said they want more details about which projects need to be completed next fiscal year before voting to borrow money.

"I want to know how important it is and what we're really doing," Councilman Brian Flewelling said.

Projects that would cost about $6.2 million should be started during the next fiscal year, Hill said.

Those include replacing the Perry Clear Bridge on Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort; fixing leaky roofs on the county administration building, detention center and Bluffton library; and replacing 10- to 20-year-old air-conditioning systems at nearly a dozen county buildings, he added.

The remainder are longer-term needs, such as improvements at the Hilton Head Island Airport, interior renovations at the courthouse, a new animal shelter and improving county pools, Hill said.

"That's a pure need of $27 million," he said. "We can't keep pushing (these projects) off, or it's going to cost more down the line."

The council might not borrow money for all of the projects next fiscal year, Flewelling said.

Some could be folded into a 1 percent capital improvements sales tax if the council pursues that option in a referendum that could be held this fall, councilmen Jerry Stewart and Gerald Dawson said.

Council members will discuss the projects and possible borrowing again at a joint meeting of the Public Facilities and Finance committees at 2 p.m. March 31 in Beaufort.

Follow reporter Zach Murdock at twitter.com/IPBG_Zach.

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