Beaufort officials are considering ways to encourage property owners in the historic district to fix up their homes, including freezing their property taxes.
On Tuesday night, Beaufort City Council and staff discussed the merits of a program that would freeze the taxes for up to 20 years if a home is renovated.
The S.C. Special Property Tax Assessment program has been around since the early 2000s and municipalities can decide the criteria, renovation cost minimums and length of time of the freeze, city planner Libby Anderson said.
The city can choose whether buildings must on the National Register of Historic Places, or if they simply need to be at least 50 years old and in a historic district to qualify, she said.
There are 38 buildings in Beaufort that currently qualify, Anderson said. They pay a combined $12,440 in property taxes annually. Up to 200 total properties could qualify, however, she said.
Beaufort officials could decide how much renovation is needed to qualify, with a minimum set by the state of 20 percent of the fair market value of the home.
The most bang for the buck would come if the county participated in the program as well, Anderson said.
Councilman George O'Kelley Jr. estimated a homeowner who would save $4,000 in taxes through the program over 10 years could save $20,000 if the county participated.
Mayor Billy Keyserling asked about possibilities for helping property owners get money for the renovations themselves.
"Many of the properties we have belong to people of little means and tax credits don't mean much to them," he said.
Councilman Mike Sutton, who is a contractor who works on renovations, said one problem is property owners have the money for improvements, but don't intend to live in the homes and don't want to sink the money into them.
While the city would not reap a tax increase from the improvements for one or two decades, Anderson pointed out that in many cases, the homes aren't going to be improved -- and therefore taxes increased -- anyway.
With the program, however, "eventually the property is going to come on the tax rolls at that higher rate," she said.
Sutton suggested city staff meet with the owners of recent renovations in the historic district and find out what kinds of incentives would have enticed or helped them.
Presentation: Beaufort vacant building tax incentive program
In other business
The commission solicited letters of interest in April that were meant to document experience and qualifications, examples of previous projects and a "general description of interest and vision for a project on the site."
Respondents were The Furman Co., of Greenville; Gramling Brothers of Charleston; East West Partners of Charleston, Blanchard and Calhoun of Augusta, Ga., and Steve Tully of Beaufort.
The Furman Co. has signed an agreement with City Council and the Redevelopment Commission to develop a plan for the 4.2-acre site.
To see the respondents' submissions, as well as the memorandum of understanding with The Furman Co., click here.
- scheduled a work session discussion on the proposed Civic Master Plan for Dec. 10. A public hearing and first reading/vote is scheduled Jan. 14. Council decided to wait for the public hearing and vote until the new year to avoid conflicting with the holiday season.
- heard a report on finances from the first quarter of fiscal year 2014 from finances director Kathy Todd.
- met in executive session to receive legal advice. No further specific reason was provided.
- included Cub Scouts Dustin Nakamura and Matthew Hebrard, both 9, of Pack 209, in the work session. The two are working on their Webelos Citizen activity badge.