While Beaufort County voters shot down a proposal to raise the local sales tax and fund dozens of infrastructure projects, county leaders have a way to fund some of them.
Anticipating the potential failure of the sales tax referendum, officials made contingency plans last month so that “in the event that it did fail, we would be prepared to go to bonding agencies to get funding for critical projects,” County Councilman Jerry Stewart said earlier this week.
The council has decided use about half of a planned $51 million bond sale to pay for five public safety capital improvement projects that appeared on the doomed sales tax referendum.
Bonds are a common way for government bodies to raise money. When a purchaser buys a bond, that purchaser is loaning the government money in exchange for the promise that the money will be repaid in the future with interest.
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$8.8 million Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office equipment upgrades
$7.4 million Jenkins Island/Windmill Harbour road improvements
$6 million New EMS facilities in Prichardville and Burton
$2 million Pinckney Island road improvements
$1 million Beaufort County Detention Center security upgrades and repairs
The county will use $8.8 million to furnish the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office with upgraded communications equipment including radios and in-car computer systems.
Two new Beaufort County EMS facilities will be built at a cost of $6 million. The new stations — one in Burton and and one in Pritchardville — were chosen because they are “strategically placed to minimize (emergency) response time,” deputy county administrator Josh Gruber said. Currently, ambulances heading to calls in Pritchardville come from several miles away in Sun City. A new EMS facility “would cut down several minutes of response time,” he said.
The Beaufort County Detention Center, which was built in 1991, will get $1 million in repairs and security improvements such as upgrades to the computerized doors and the addition of a digital camera system to replace the current analog system.
The county will use $2 million to build an underpass that will allow drivers in the Pinckney Island area to more safely get on and off U.S. 278. Currently, drivers must make a difficult left-hand turn to get across the U.S. 278 median and access the Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge on the north side of the highway or a boat landing to the south.
A $7.4 million road improvement project on Jenkins Island has similar aims — making it easier and safer to get on and off U.S. 278 in the Windmill Harbor area by adding new access lanes.
In total, these capital improvement projects will cost $25.2 million.
The remainder of the money raised by the bond sale will fund Rural and Critical Land Preservation Program and stormwater capital improvement projects that were not on the sales tax referendum projects list but were approved by voters in 2012.
The county plans to issue the bonds, despite the potential for the Federal Reserve to raise key interest rates next month, Gruber said.
The sale will likely happen in January, he said.