Beaufort County groups eye another $95 million in capital projects

dburley@islandpacket.comMay 19, 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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Beaufort County leaders asked a panel Monday night to consider requests for as much as $95 million in public money to pay for a wide-ranging list of capital projects.

That money would come from a 1 percent sales tax that's being considered as a possible referendum in the November general election.

The Beaufort County Capital Project Sales Tax Commission heard proposals from a charter school, the University of South Carolina Beaufort, the city of Beaufort and two private citizens, among other groups.

Desired improvements included a new downtown parking garage in Beaufort, sidewalk improvements in the Sheldon Township area and a convention center for USCB.

The groups and their proposals included:

CITY OF BEAUFORT

At the top of the city's list is a $16 million parking garage and a $3.5 million Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park expansion that must be seen as a single project, mayor Billy Keyserling said.

The garage would be two or four stories tall and have about 450 spaces.

This would help ease parking problems in the city, which have "been a problem since we put in meters in 1934," Keyserling said.

Commission member Scott Graber said he would like to look at studies that point to this parking problem.

The waterfront project would expand the park into the Beaufort Downtown Marina parking lot, potentially taking up 95 spots there.

Another request is for $2.15 million to renovate Southside Park from the largely grassy space it is now into a more usable space with trails, a playground and dog parks.

Keyserling said this would help revitalize the Mossy Oaks neighborhood.

"This would make the neighborhood much more attractive for young families," he said.

Total: $21.6 million

BEAUFORT COUNTY

The county pitched nearly $90 million of projects in two previous meetings, several of them in partnership with municipalities -- for instance, teaming with the town of Bluffton to continue work on Bluffton Parkway.

On Monday, county traffic engineer Colin Kinton requested $6 million to improve sidewalks on rural roads in the Sheldon Township area. Those roads include Stuart Point, Bruce K Smalls, Paige Point, Big Estate and U.S. 17.

County administrator Gary Kubic said several of the projects would increase safety for students walking to school.

Several commission members took issue with the amount of money requested for what they called seldom-used roads. Others wanted the county to pay the bill.

"Beaufort County has decided not to pay the money to do this ... why should we do this?" panel member Scott Richardson said.

Total: $6 million

UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH CAROLINA BEAUFORT

The school wants to build a new convention center for about $35 million; construct a recreation complex for $16 million; renovate its Center for Arts on its Historic Beaufort Campus for $2 million; and build a facility for its Osher Lifelong Learning Institute for $4 million.

Total: $57 million

BRIDGES PREPARATORY SCHOOL

The Beaufort-based charter school is buying the former Boys & Girls Club building on Boundary Street for $1.4 million.

The school seeks $6.8 million to add about 37,000 square feet to the building, including 36 classrooms and lab space.

Charlie Calvert, vice chair of the school's board of directors, said the renovations would add needed space. Projections show the school will have twice as many students by 2018, he said.

Total: $6.8 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.

If the commission doesn't approve this request, town manager Van Willis said Monday that the town wants $250,000 worth of sidewalk improvements and $4 million to re-pave 7.5 miles of roads in town.

Total: $4.25 million

SHELDON TOWNSHIP

Several citizens in Sheldon want to build a public park on Paige Point Road.

"We heard there was some funding going on ... and Sheldon rarely gets any," resident Chris Campbell said.

Total: $15,000

ALLJOY ROAD IMPROVEMENTS

A resident of Alljoy, in greater Bluffton, wants to add a 1.6-mile bike path to the area. He said it would increase safety for pedestrians on roadways where speeding cars have killed at least one walker, according to resident Donald Graham.

Total: $200,000

WHAT'S NEXT

Including Monday's proposals, area groups have now asked for as much as $375 million in taxpayer money for an array of projects.

The requests range in size and scope, from the purchase of the Port of Port Royal, to one pastor's appeal to put an Olympic-size pool at Whale Branch Early College High School.

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 for eight years. That means all of the projects won't necessarily be funded.

The commission will meet June 2 and June 9 at Beaufort County headquarters in Beaufort to discuss what projects it considers worth funding.

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

Follow reporter Dan Burley at twitter.com/IPBG_Dan.

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