Don't back down on sales tax decision

Beaufort County Council should not reconsider its sales tax increase decision.

newsroom@islandpacket.comJuly 13, 2014 

Some local leaders are peeved about Beaufort County Council's decision to nix a proposal that would have asked voters whether to increase the sales tax by 1 percent to raise money for 21 projects.

"I do not believe County Council is treating us ... fairly," wrote Beaufort Mayor Billy Keyserling in his weekly email newsletter on June 27. "And quite frankly, this issue is not about voting yea or nay, it's about having the opportunity to vote."

Scott Richardson, a member of a county-created commission that reviewed potential projects and came up with the final list, was more terse. "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?"

While we certainly understand their frustration of seeing a proposal they support go awry, we urge County Council to stay the course and not revisit the issue. A majority of council was correct that much of the final list was a reflection of wants, not needs. And if County Council had put the on the ballot, they would have sent the message to voters that their elected officials deemed the projects a worthy expenditure of public funds. It's better to hold off for a better list that has public officials' confidence than move forward with a flimsy one.

Voting trends clearly show that a majority of Beaufort County voters are fiscal conservatives . Odds were good the proposal would not have passed their dollar-conscious muster. No elected official in Beaufort County should ignore what they know about their constituents and neighbors.

The good news is that important lessons can be gleaned from this experience, lessons that can help guarantee the passage of a future sales tax increase. They include:

  • Future commissions must be brutal when reviewing potential projects. If a majority of county residents would not benefit from the project, throw it out. If questions exist about whether the cost estimates are correct, throw it out. If other avenues exist to pay for the work, throw it out. If a reasonable argument can be made that the project is a nicety, not a necessity, throw it out. The public officials who place appointees to future commissions should make those marching orders clear.

  • This was a big reason many residents opposed the list, which included sidewalk projects that the county should have included in its general fund budget, not a sales tax proposal. It also included the purchase of the port of Port Royal despite recently passed legislation that offers a superior plan for the sale and development of the property. And then there is the realignment of a 2.5-mile stretch of Bluffton Parkway, projected to cost a staggering -- and perhaps unbelievable -- $28 million. Collectively, it's easy to see why some residents were opposed to these questionable projects.

  • Think big. Raising taxes should be a last resort to fund improvements. If it is done, make sure it's for a handful of large projects that have far-reaching impact, not a long list of localized ones.

  • Remember the local taxpayers. Too often in the discussions of this proposal, proponents remarked that visitors would pay a greater share than residents for the projects. That may be true. But residents will also pitch in every time they make purchases, too. Proponents of future proposals must think local and talk local.

  • A majority of County Council was correct in their assessment of the sales tax proposal. Now, they should ignore the critics and stay the course.

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