For the third time since 2000, voters will be asked to decide whether to continue funding Beaufort County’s Rural and Critical Lands program.
A question on the Nov. 6 ballot will ask voters if they’re willing to spend another $25 million on land preservation.
The program has been funded by two previous ballot measures — one in 2000 for $40 million in borrowing and the second in 2006 for another $50 million.
Voters supported both by margins of about 3 to 1, according to county records.
Never miss a local story.
Of the $90 million approved, about $5 million remains. Funds will need to be replenished by 2014 for the program to continue, county officials have said.
Preservation proponents seek permission to spend 20 percent of the borrowed money on property improvements, which could include trails, benches, signs, observation areas and bathrooms.
Last year, the Rural and Critical Lands Board requested 1 mill of property tax be levied annually as additional funding for the program. One mill equals about $4 extra in taxes for every $100,000 of property value on an owner-occupied home, or $6 for every $100,000 of value on a second home or rental property.
County officials have said opportunities abound for land preservation now because of historically low real estate values, cheap borrowing rates and growing public support.
Through conservation easements and outright purchases, the program has protected more than 17,000 acres, including Bluffton Oyster Factory Park, Widgeon Point near Lemon Island, and a new section of Okatie Regional Park near Hampton Parkway.
A handful of those properties have been designated as parks and opened to the public.
Not everyone supports the bond proposal, namely Beaufort County Council candidate Cynthia Bensch, who is running against Dan Duryea to represent District 7. The district includes the Bluffton-Okatie area south of U.S. 278, west of S.C. 170 and north of S.C. 46.
Though she said she supports land preservation, Bensch said, given the economy, the county should not be spending millions on undeveloped property.
“... In our economic crisis, now is not the time to consider a $25 million debt for taxpayers,” Bensch said.
Duryea supports the bond proposal, saying land preservation has been an American ideal since the 1870s.