Beaufort County residents could pay property taxes next year that are roughly 2 percent higher than they are now. It would be the second tax hike in the county in as many years.
That’s the amount taxpayers would kick in if the county’s fiscal year 2018 general fund budget grows by about $2 million, according to information presented Friday at the Beaufort County Council’s annual strategic retreat.
The projected hike doesn’t include the potential for a higher tax increase related to Hurricane Matthew storm clean-up.
For owners who live full-time in houses valued at $288,000, the proposed increase means roughly $11.50 extra in annual property tax payments. Owners of second homes, which are taxed at a higher rate, would pay about $17 more.
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Taxes were raised by about 5 percent when the current fiscal year’s budget was passed in June.
“We may have reached a tipping point where the days of low tax rates in Beaufort County are over,” Beaufort County Councilman Rick Caporale said Friday. “The way we have been (preparing budgets) is unsustainable.”
The additional proposed expenses come from several sources.
The cost to implement the county’s recent employee salary study and providing the pay raises it recommended would total about $2.5 million, deputy county administrator Josh Gruber said.
An increase in the county’s responsibility for employee retirement benefits could cost an additional $300,000 next year, while the state may cut certain annual funds doled out to local governments by about $600,000, he said.
Improving the county’s internal internet and technology systems could cost another $1 million.
“Not only is (the IT system) getting older and becoming more obsolete, we are putting more demands on our network,” Gruber said.
The website and internal employee email network has crashed several times in recent months.
Those additional expenses could be offset partially by some increased revenues, county chief financial officer Alicia Holland said.
Population growth is expected to bring in about $2.6 million in additional property taxes, building permit fees and charges for various government services.
Property rates may need to be hiked beyond the 2 percent floated Friday once storm clean-up costs are finalized.
Preliminary figures estimate the recovery effort will cost the county upwards of $20 million, administration leaders say.
While the state and federal governments are expected to reimburse much of that cost, a portion will ultimately be shouldered by local taxpayers.
“We are going to see a dip” in the county’s roughly $27-million reserve fund due to Hurricane Matthew-related costs, Holland said.
The proposed tax hikes are by no means guaranteed, however.
The County Council has until July to approve a new budget. Between now and then, elected officials could push the administration to reduce expenses.
“If we said we have to cut 2 percent (in expenditures from the budget), we could do it,” Councilman Stu Rodman said.
County administrator Gary Kubic said cuts likely would come by reducing staffing — salaries and benefits make up about 70 percent of the county’s budget.
In other action
After several years of taking a solo approach to economic development, the county could soon look outward toward a regional alliance with other nearby counties.
Based on a recommendation from New York-based consulting firm Camoin Associates, the Beaufort County Economic Development Corporation has decided to explore joining the Southern Carolina Alliance.
That nonprofit organization facilitates business development in Allendale, Bamberg, Barnwell, Colleton, Hampton and Jasper counties.
Beaufort County Council members gave their blessing Friday to the development corporation joining forces with the alliance.