In the wake of the costly Hurricane Matthew cleanup and a failed sales tax referendum that would have raised $120 million for infrastructure improvements, Beaufort County leaders are stepping up long-term budget planning efforts and have begun identifying critical public projects to tackle over the next three to five years.
The projects — which could total more than $40 million — run the gamut from building more housing for locals with special needs to providing recreational boaters with better access to the county’s waterways.
Deputy county administrator Josh Gruber recently told members of the Beaufort County Council’s Public Facilities Committee that the projects list — currently being developed in advance of the board’s annual planning retreat in February — is tailored to address specific “areas of concern and areas of need.”
One of the more immediate needs is the replacement of the Arthur Horn Building on Ribaut Road in Beaufort, which houses the county’s Magistrate Court, he said.
The building has substantial water damage and would likely be more expensive to repair than replace. The county will soon seek bids for design and engineering work for a new three-story building estimated to cost between $5 million and $7 million, Gruber said.
The county’s administration building and courthouse facilities at the Beaufort governmental complex could also be in line for an estimated $5 million in repairs.
The Beaufort County Detention Center needs roughly $3 million in upgrades, county leaders say.
“There is remaining useful life within the existing facility, but we are going to need to make some immediate repairs to it in order to maximize the existing useful life,” Gruber said of the 25-year-old jail.
In recent years, the number of registered watercraft has grown, but public ramps and boat landings fail to “meet the demands and needs of the community in terms of water access,” he said.
County staff estimates about $1.5 million will be needed to expand existing landings and possibly add new ramps.
In an effort to reduce overcrowding at a Beaufort County Department of Disabilities and Special Needs residential facility in Port Royal, county leaders have proposed building up to eight new homes for DSN clients.
There are currently 15 people living in the Port Royal facility.
The goal “is to relocate those individuals from one single building and put them in smaller residential homes,” with four people to a residence, Gruber said.
Assistant county administrator Monica Spells said over the next several years the county’s internet, email, phone and various software systems will need to be updated, which would likely cost several million dollars.
Other projects being considered include renovations to the county’s public works facility on Shanklin Road; heating, air-conditioning and elevator replacements at various public buildings; and parking lot expansions at the Beaufort County Board of Elections offices in Beaufort and Bluffton.
Staff will work to refine this list of projects in the coming weeks to provide County Council members an opportunity at the upcoming retreat to determine “what we could or could not afford” and find potential funding sources, Councilman Jerry Stewart said.