Despite pleas, County Council unlikely to reconsider 1 percent sales tax

zmurdock@beaufortgazette.comJuly 8, 2014 

Some local leaders are pleading with Beaufort County Council to revive a proposed sales-tax referendum it voted down last month, but several council members say that's not likely.

Beaufort Mayor Billy Keyserling argued the council must reconsider its decision and push the proposal forward for voters to decide in November.

"I cannot read the voters' minds about how they feel about the Capital Sales Tax," Keyserling wrote in his weekly email newsletter sent June 27. "But I do not believe County Council is treating us ... fairly. And quite frankly, this issue is not about voting yea or nay, it's about having the opportunity to vote."

The County Council voted 7-4 on June 23 to kill the proposed November referendum over concerns about how much money the tax would raise, how long it would last and the necessity of some projects it would fund. The election would have allowed voters to decide whether to create a 1 percent sales tax to fund 21 projects. The projects would cost a total of $221 million, to be raised in eight years or less.

The four council members who supported the referendum -- Gerald Dawson, Laura Von Harten, Bill McBride and Jerry Stewart -- each cited a desire to let the voters decide.

Council members opposed to the November referendum said the projects list was curated too quickly, and the only people they hear supporting it were those who have an interest in projects the tax would have funded. They also doubt the tax would pass.

Keyserling said a majority of council caved to an outspoken minority of tea party opposition.

"It's basically a slap in the face to the people, making what was supposed to be the least possible political issue political again," he said.

Some members of the independent county commission that crafted the proposal also want the council to reconsider.

"I can't speak for everybody, but I think the commission people were a little bit offended (at the council's decision)," commission member Scott Richardson said.

Richardson labeled as bogus council members' arguments that the commission did not have enough time to vet proposed projects or that the list was too broad.

"Those were all, to me, total red herrings from a group of people who were basically scared of the tea party," Richardson said.

"Grow a little damn guts and put it out there for voters. Why even form the committee if you're going to prejudge it and throw it out?"

In a letter to County Council last week, commission member Bill Robinson called the decision embarrassing.

Council is unlikely to revisit the issue later this month, said council members Rick Caporale, Brian Flewelling and Tabor Vaux, who voted against the referendum. They have been asked by supporters of the proposal to reconsider, they said. However, the only support they have heard for the referendum has come from those with a vested interest in one of the 21 projects, they added.

"I still have not heard support from 'Joe Blow' on the street," Vaux said. "Everybody I've heard supporting this has a particular interest in one project or another. The most that I've heard from regular people is that, 'We support this project or that project, but as a bundle, absolutely not.' "

Council rules allow it to revisit an issue it has killed, under certain conditions, county attorney Josh Gruber said Tuesday.

One of the seven council members who voted against the referendum could ask the council to reconsider the vote, Gruber said. If that motion is seconded by another council member and the majority of the council votes to reconsider, it could vote again on the original proposal.

Should the council reconsider and then vote in favor of the referendum, it also would have to schedule a special meeting to hold two more votes on the issue before the ballot question is due to the local elections office by Aug. 15, Gruber said. The council's next meeting is July 28.

"Nobody has made any kind of noise that they're intending to make that kind of motion," Flewelling said.

And Flewelling, Caporale and Vaux said it's unlikely they will be persuaded otherwise.

"I've declined (reconsidering) for all the same reasons I voted about in the first place," Caporale said. "Mainly, we simply did not allow enough time. If it had, we might have had a whole different outcome."

Follow reporter Zach Murdock at twitter.com/IPBG_Zach.

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