Beaufort County Council members have had surprisingly little to say about a proposal to increase the sales tax by 1 percent to pay for about $221 million in capital projects, including improvements to the Bluffton Parkway, purchasing the Port of Port Royal and constructing an arena for the University of South Carolina Beaufort.
When asked whether they support the plan, their answers have often been vague and uncertain. They've included, "It's up to the voters to decide" and "I'm waiting to see the list of projects before I say more."
These are non-answers that do not befit leaders. The public needs guidance on this important proposal. County Council members, who voted to set this process in motion and who put together a committee to vet potential projects, know more than most and need to provide insight instead of sitting on the proverbial fence. Silence is not an option for those who have chosen to serve as public officials no matter if they have speculative fears that their point of view will not align with that of their constituents.
County Council members will hopefully be forthcoming Monday when they consider the list of projects for the first time as a full council. No facile solution is to be had. Voters need council's guidance to determine if approving the list will benefit their community and the county as a whole.
Hats off to council member Tabor Vaux who, at a county committee meeting this week, made it clear that he opposes the plan, saying the process was too rushed and has resulted in a wish list rather than real needs. And council member Steve Fobes is also sending increasingly-clear signals that the list of projects does not have merit.
As for the other council members, we're not certain where they stand.
Their expertise is needed now to show that the long list of projects is more nuanced than many voters realize. Case in point: purchasing the Port of Port Royal.
Buying the languishing port and allowing town of Port Royal officials to aggressively pursue buyers/developers seems like a good idea. Redeveloping the 317-acre site that has sat vacant since 2004 could completely transform the community and provide much-needed industry and jobs. It has great potential to be one of the biggest development success stories the region has experienced in years.
But take a closer look. Is it fair to ask residents from across the county, many of whom never step foot in Port Royal, to purchase the port and let Port Royal officials pocket the proceeds? Shouldn't county taxpayers reap some benefit from the deal? Perhaps it would be better to see if a private developer will purchase the property from the State Ports Authority, particularly now that the General Assembly has passed a bill that requires the property be sold by June 2015 or auctioned off for at least 80 percent of its appraised value.
We'd like to hear council members discuss that and other details of the proposed projects. There's more to the story than a "no comment."