Town of Hilton Head Island Mayor Drew Laughlin said he's not prepared to endorse a 1 percent sales tax to raise money for capital projects until he sees what improvements are on the table.
Beaufort County is considering such a tax for a possible referendum in November.
"There's been too much talk about a tax before a consideration of needs that drive that revenue," Laughlin said Tuesday night. "It's kind of putting the cart before the horse."
The mayor made his comments after Town Council appointed a representative to be the town's voice on a commission tasked with drafting a list of the projects the tax would pay for.
Scott Richardson, former head of the S.C. Department of Insurance, will represent the island on the six-member board created by Beaufort County Council. The commission also will include representatives from the county and area municipalities.
It will look into the 1 percent sales tax for capital improvements, one of two proposals being considered for the November ballot.
The other 1 percent sales tax would provide property tax relief for residents and additional funds for municipalities to spend as their councils decide.
Town Council did not discuss either tax at its meeting Tuesday night.
After that meeting, Laughlin said he did not support either tax "conceptually," but leans toward the capital improvements proposal because it has an expiration date, among other reasons. The property tax relief proposal has no expiration date.
The capital improvements proposal is similar to an initiative used by the county to pay for road projects after a 2006 referendum, Laughlin said. That tax has since expired.
When asked what projects he supports, Laughlin said 'I do know that road access is critical."
He also mentioned rebuilding or repairing the bridges to and from Hilton Head Island as a possibility.
"We'll also have to see about other needs around the county," he said.
Laughlin, who last year opposed the property-tax relief proposal when it was discussed by County Council, said he still opposes it.
That tax requires that 70 percent of the revenue generated be used to reduce property taxes. The rest would be spent at the discretion of local governments.
Supporters say the increase would put money back into residents' pockets. They also say a large chunk of it will be paid by visitors to the area.
Laughlin is not convinced.
"A good portion" of the property tax relief would be offset by the sales tax, he said, adding that it would be especially hard on those who don't own property.
County Council is expected to take the first of three votes on the property tax relief proposal at its March 24 meeting.
It will take up the capital improvements proposal after the commission returns with its findings. That could be sometime this summer, according to county attorney Josh Gruber.
Depending on the outcome of those votes, residents could see one, both or neither proposal on the ballot this fall.
Hilton Head is expected to vote April 1 on whether it supports the property-tax relief proposal. A vote on the capital improvements proposal has not been scheduled.
Follow reporter Dan Burley on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Dan.