When you hit the stores to do some holiday shopping, would you be willing to pay a little bit more if that meant improving Beaufort County’s transportation network?
Local voters will have a chance to answer that question next year, following a unanimous decision Monday night by Beaufort County Council to approve adding a sales tax increase referendum to the 2018 ballot.
If passed, next November’s referendum would aim to raise $120 million over four years to be used for transportation projects. County officials have estimated that about a third of the burden of the extra taxed would be shouldered by tourists and visitors.
The lion’s share of that revenue, $80 million — raised over a period of four years by adding a penny tax to every dollar spent in the county — would be used to widen or replace the aging and often congested Hilton Head Island bridges, according to county plans.
The remainder of funds for the estimated $240 million project could come from already allocated S.C. Department of Transportation funds and, potentially, the state transportation infrastructure bank, interim county administrator Josh Gruber told council members last month.
At that meeting last month, Gruber said anyone who has recently made the trip to Hilton Head Island recognizes that “the time it takes to get onto and off of the island is much greater” than in the past.
In addition to the Hilton Head Island bridge project, $30 million of the sales tax revenue would be allocated for traffic improvements on Lady’s Island along the Sea Island Parkway corridor between the Woods Memorial Bridge and the Chowan Creek Bridge, and $10 million would be used for new sidewalks and pathways throughout the county.
While he supported the measure Monday, Councilman York Glover said the county should look for further funding sources for pathways and recreational trails north of the Broad River, particularly in the St. Helena Island area.
“In my district there are very few pathways for people who just want exercise without being in danger of going into the highway,” he said. “There’s a great need for places to just walk.”
The 2018 ballot will be the second in as many years to include a penny sales tax increase referendum. The 2016 referendum failed by a relatively wide margin.