The city of Beaufort is trying to convince Beaufort County and its municipalities to adopt a rule that would give owners of historic properties an incentive to rehabilitate them.
Known as the "Bailey Bill," the rule would freeze a historic property's assessment at its pre-renovation value, so that the owner's tax bill doesn't increase immediately as a result of improvements, according to Beaufort project development planner Lauren Kelly.
For the owner to qualify, the renovations must be equal to or exceed a certain percentage of the home's value. After a certain number of years, the freeze is lifted, and the property is taxed at its new, higher value, according to Kelly.
The details of how the special tax assessment would work in Beaufort County still need to be developed, but the basic structure is already set up as a provision within state law for local governments to adopt, Kelly said.
"I'm so happy the city is taking the initiative," said Maxine Lutz, executive director of the Historic Beaufort Foundation. "I don't think there are any losses to this."
The foundation and Beaufort City Council already support the bill, and on Monday, Kelly pitched the program to Beaufort County Council's Finance Committee.
"I think it's a great idea, and I'm sure we're going to pursue it," committee Chairman Rick Caporale said.
Because the city and county each charge taxes, the bill offers greater tax relief if both governments adopt the rule than if the city alone offers it, Kelly said.
Committee members agreed the bill could entice preservation of historic properties all over the county, not just in Beaufort. The towns of Bluffton and Port Royal have historic districts, and Daufuskie Island is a historic district.
It's likely the rule could be written in a way that Hilton Head Island could eventually adopt it as its buildings age, Kelly said.
"It doesn't cost us anything; we're not getting that (tax) money anyway," if the properties go without repairs or improvements, County Councilman Stu Rodman said. "Also, it raises the value of adjacent properties."
With the support of County Council, Kelly said she and city planning colleagues intend to present the idea to the county school board and continue discussions with town planners in Port Royal and Bluffton. They will also begin drafting an ordinance for the local councils to discuss and eventually vote on, she said.
Similar programs have been successful in Richland County and Columbia, and it could be what some owners of historic homes need to reinvest in their properties, Lutz said.
In Beaufort, the city has identified 50 abandoned or vacant properties, 38 of which would qualify for tax incentives under the Bailey Bill. During the past 10 years, the city has averaged just two substantial renovations of vacant historic properties per year, Kelly said.
"Every building is unique and has a story," she said. "Some people aren't sure what they want to do, so we need as many resources as possible to help them figure out what the best option is."
Follow reporter Zach Murdock at twitter.com/IPBG_Zach.