Beaufort County Council to take up school budget, tax referendums Monday

Beaufort County Council is scheduled to tackle several big financial decisions Monday, including the county and school district budgets and two possible referendums to spend a combined $241 million.

The county's budget proposal avoids a property tax increase but at the cost of cutting between 40 to 60 salaried positions during the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, county administrator Gary Kubic has said.

The school district's budget is not as settled.

Last week, district officials refused to make further cuts to its budget, despite County Council's June 9 vote to give the district less tax revenue than it requested.

The district wants about $118 million in tax revenue to pay for growing enrollment and unfunded state mandates.

County Council wants the district to cut about $4 million to bring that figure closer to $114 million.

School district officials have said they hope the final district budget could fall somewhere between those two marks.

The council also will consider two referendums that could be put before voters in November's general election.

One measure would create a 1 percent sales tax to fund 21 capital-improvement projects with a total price tag of more than $221 million. County Council's Governmental Committee supported the tax last week, but with some reservations.

This month, an independent county commission approved the list of projects, which includes shifting a section of Bluffton Parkway, buying the Port of Port Royal, and building sports facilities and an arena for the University of South Carolina Beaufort. If approved, the tax would raise about $30 million a year and would last up to eight years, the maximum time allowed under state law, county attorney Josh Gruber has said.

Another proposed referendum would raise $20 million in bonds to continue the county's Rural and Critical Lands Program, which buys land for preservation purposes.

The council intended to vote on the land referendum proposal June 9 but ran up against an 8 p.m. deadline to adjourn the meeting before it could do so.

The referendum initially included language that would allow limited economic development on lands purchased through the program, but council members voted overwhelmingly to strike that provision before time ran out that night. The referendum language voted on at Monday's meeting will not include permission for economic development, Gruber has said.

Both referendums require three votes and a public hearing by County Council before they can be placed on ballots in November's general election. Monday will be the council's first vote on each.

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