Bluffton economic group could borrow against special tax fund for Buckwalter Place deal

zmurdock@beaufortgazette.comMarch 27, 2014 

This aerial view from Google Earth shows Buckwalter Place looking northwest from Bluffton Parkway.

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Bluffton's economic development group could use a special tax fund to help pay for its portion of a proposed deal to buy land at Buckwalter Place, according to local leaders.

The Bluffton Public Development Corporation, Beaufort County and the town have pledged to pay as much as $1 million each to buy 34 acres at the commercial park. The partners might then sell 10 to 12 acres of that land to a buyer who has not yet been publicly identified, according to Roberts Vaux, the group's chairman.

The corporation has about $164,000 on hand. To raise the additional money it would need to participate in the purchase, it could seek private investors.

The Bluffton Public Development Corporation might also try to leverage a special tax fund created in 2008, when the county and town made the Buckwalter Place development a "multi-county industrial park," development corporation director Marc Orlando said.

The park is much like a special tax district, with property taxes paid to the county and town on buildings within it set aside to pay for infrastructure improvements. The fund currently contains $100,000, but according to a 2008 estimate, the fund could grow as large as $1.3 million over its lifespan, according to county attorney Josh Gruber.

The multi-county industrial park designation ends in 2028, Gruber added.

The county and town passed resolutions in early 2013, shortly after the corporation was formed, giving the Bluffton Public Development Corporation control of that fund. Included in the fund's original agreement are clauses that allow the fund to be spent to acquire land to develop the park, Orlando said.

The town created the development corporation to attract and retain businesses by working with local developers. The town currently funds $140,000 of the corporation's $164,000 operating budget, according to town documents. The remainder comes from county funding and grants.

The corporation could borrow as much as $1.3 million against the tax fund, if it chooses to do so, Orlando said. Borrowing probably would done by issuing bonds, which would be repaid as property taxes from the park are deposited in the fund.

It is not yet clear whether those would be municipal bonds or some other type.

The corporation is also trying to attract private investors to help contribute to its portion, board member Roland King said. Any investment of that sort would reduce the amount the corporation would have to borrow.

The county probably would tap its $24 million reserve fund to pay its portion, county officials have said.

The town has almost $4 million in unassigned funds, according to its 2013 comprehensive annual financial report, but it's unlikely it would rely entirely on its reserves to pay its portion, finance director Shirley Freeman said.

Instead, the town probably would consider a combination of borrowing and drawing from its reserves, she said.

Before any deal is finalized, the development corporation will present further details to county and town councils, Vaux said.

Follow reporter Zach Murdock at twitter.com/IPBG_Zach.

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