Groups ask for $290 million in public money for sweeping list of projects

dburley@islandpacket.comMay 18, 2014 

A slide from the City of Beaufort's presentation to the Beaufort County Sales Tax Committee seeking a share of proceeds from a 1-percent sales tax that might be put before voters in November.

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In the past three weeks, groups across Beaufort County have asked for as much as $290 million in public money to pay for a sweeping list of projects -- likely more than the proposed 1 percent sales tax would ever raise.

The requests range in size and scope, from preliminary work to rebuild the bridges to and from Hilton Head Island, to one pastor's appeal to put an Olympic-sized pool at Whale Branch Early College High School.

Other proposed projects include new school buildings, road improvements and purchases that would put more than 1,200 acres of private land into the hands of government or its economic-development agents.

The projects would be paid for with a 1 percent sales tax that might be considered during the November election. The tax would generate an estimated $30 million a year, according to Beaufort County attorney Josh Gruber.

Though how long the tax would last hasn't been decided, state law allows it to last for two, four, six or eight years, or cease when all the projects it funds are paid in full -- whichever comes first.

The tax could probably raise about $240 million if in place eight years.

An advisory panel of Beaufort County officials has formed to decide what projects are worth funding.

It meets at 6:30 p.m. Monday at Town Hall on Hilton Head.

With the city of Beaufort planning to present its wish list, and other groups considering additional projects, the panel won't be able to fund every request.

Some on the panel say some projects are frivolous. Other officials have likened it to a "grab bag" and said it seems groups are hoping to benefit from the largesse of the taxpayer.

"A lot of projects have come in not really living up to the criteria we articulated," said Scott Graber, a member of the advisory panel, called the Capital Project Sales Tax Commission.

"There seems to be some folks who want to get on the train ... who think, 'OK, this is our chance to get a piece of the action.'"

The commission has until the beginning of June to create a list of projects.

County Council must approve all the proposals by Aug. 15 if the sales tax measure is to go before voters.

The following shows each group that has made requests and the costs of their proposals:

BEAUFORT COUNTY

The county seeks mostly road-related projects, several in partnership with municipalities -- for instance, partnering with the town of Bluffton to continue work on the Bluffton Parkway. Gary Kubic, county administrator, said Friday that county staff could also present a few sidewalk projects for northern Beaufort County at the Monday panel meeting.

  • Spanish Moss Rail Trail -- $9 million
  • Joe Frazier Road traffic and pedestrian improvements -- $7 million
  • U.S. 278 traffic signal improvements -- $300,000
  • U.S. 278 median improvements -- $2.5 million
  • Depot Road sidewalk -- $500,000
  • Salem Road pathway -- $1 million
  • Woods Memorial Bridge notification system -- $400,000
  • Bluffton Parkway pathways -- $150,000
  • Bluffton Parkway-S.C. 46 roundabout upgrades -- $1.5 million
  • Pathway improvements near Burnt Church Road -- $3.75 million
  • Lake Point Drive and Old Miller Road traffic improvements -- $2.1 million
  • Parris Island Gateway-Savannah Highway intersection -- $750,000
  • Upgrade traffic-light mast arms -- $2 million
  • Flashing yellow-arrow upgrades -- $500,000
  • Traffic-signal battery upgrades at 20 intersections -- $500,000
  • Sea Island Parkway-Lady's Island Drive intersection improvements -- $2 million
  • Meridian Road improvements -- $1.5 million
  • Coosa Elementary and Middle school road traffic improvements -- $2 million
  • Cross Creek shopping center traffic improvements -- $500,000
  • Bluffton Parkway Phase 6 -- $5 million
Total: About $43 million

TOWN OF BLUFFTON

Bluffton's primary desire is Bluffton Parkway Phase 5B, which would realign a section of the road running from the Buckwalter Parkway to Buck Island Road. Some panel members, however, are concerned by the realignment's estimated $28 million price tag.

At a meeting last week, Bluffton Mayor Lisa Sulka said that estimate allows for the costs of inspection, land to be purchased from SCE&G and Santee Cooper, and engineering and design, in addition to construction.

  • Bluffton Parkway Phase 5B -- $28 million*
  • May River Watershed sewer master plan -- $17.6 million
  • May River Watershed hydrology projects -- $1 million
  • Buckwalter Place traffic improvements -- $6 million
*also listed by Beaufort County

Total: $52.6 million

TOWN OF HILTON HEAD ISLAND

Hilton Head officials have said their chief requests include installing sewer service to neighborhoods on the north end of the island, beginning preliminary bridge work and bringing in money for the Island Recreation Center and the struggling Arts Center of Coastal Carolina.

  • Install sewer service near Gumtree Road -- $3.4 million
  • Traffic improvements, land acquisition, design and engineering for future replacement of bridges to and from Hilton Head Island -- $15 million*
  • Hog, Jenkins and Pinckney islands traffic improvements -- $8.5 million*
  • U.S. 278/Squire Pope Road intersection upgrades -- $500,000
  • Resurfacing roads -- $5.5 million
  • U.S. 278/Shelter Cove Towne Centre traffic improvements -- $1.25 million
  • Replace Fire Station No. 2 in Sea Pines -- $3 million
  • Island Recreation Center expansion -- $6.9 million
  • Arts Center of Coastal Carolina restoration -- $5 million
  • Build 6.9 miles of pathways -- $6.25 million
  • Barker Field, Chaplin and Crossings parks improvements -- $5 million
*also listed by Beaufort County

Total: $60.3 million

TOWN OF PORT ROYAL

Port Royal wants the shuttered Port of Port Royal property to be redeveloped, and it might try to jump-start the process by purchasing the land from the S.C. State Ports Authority, which has tried unsuccessfully for nearly a decade to sell it.

Town manager Van Willis said Beaufort County could buy the land and transfer the deed to Port Royal, or it could transfer the money to the town for the purchase. The town would then seek to sell it, likely in parcels, a process he thinks would take a year or two.

Commission members reacted favorably to this proposal.

"I think all six of us are looking for something to happen at this property," chairman Craig Forrest said.

  • Buy Port of Port Royal -- $22.5 million
  • Spine road at Ribaut Road and Paris Avenue -- $6 million
  • Port of Port Royal-related projects, including water and sewer service, a new park and waterfront promenade -- $1.45 million
*also listed by Beaufort County

Total: About $30 million

BEAUFORT-JASPER WATER & SEWER AUTHORITY

The utility wants to construct a building near its Chelsea water treatment plant that would house workers during disasters. General manager Ed Saxon said the 25,000-square-foot building would support employees who work on water and sewer services during storms or hurricanes.

Some commission members argued this is a hefty price for a building that would rarely be used.

  • Construct building near Chelsea water treatment plant -- $5.5 million
  • Total: $5.5 million

    TECHNICAL COLLEGE OF THE LOWCOUNTRY

    The college wants to renovate two deteriorating buildings on its Beaufort campus. It also has asked for a new 40,000-square-foot building to house hospitality-related classes on its New River campus.

    • Replace two buildings on Beaufort campus -- $6 million
    • New building on New River campus -- $12.5 million
    Total: $18.5 million

    RIVERVIEW CHARTER SCHOOL

    The school, located at former Shell Point Elementary, wants to repair the building or build a new school. The school board's chairman, Edward Foster, said Riverview will outgrow its current building by 2016.

  • Upgrade current school -- $8 million
  • OR
  • Build new school -- $18 million to $22 million

  • Total: $8 million to $22 million

    LOWCOUNTRY ECONOMIC ALLIANCE

    The economic-development group seeks more than 1,200 acres near Yemassee, in greater Bluffton and in Beaufort. After purchasing the properties, the alliance would add wastewater facilities and road upgrades, among other land improvements, with the public money.

    Those properties would eventually be turned into commercial parks to attract out-of-town businesses, including aerospace firms, defense contractors and information-technology companies.

    "The problem right now is there's no place to put a business" the size of which the alliance tries to attract, alliance executive director Kim Statler said Tuesday. "We've got to invest in property to compete."

    • Buy rail industrial park near Yemassee -- $22.7 million
    • Buy Graves property in greater Bluffton -- $12.8 million
    • Buy land near Beaufort Commerce Park -- $23.4 million
    Total: $58.9 million

    Follow reporter Dan Burley at twitter.com/IPBG_Dan.

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