Beaufort News

Tea partiers concerned sales tax proposal will overburden low-income residents

FILE: Members of the Beaufort Tea Party listen during the Capital Sales Project Commission's first meeting in the County Council Chambers the evening of April 10, 2014, in Beaufort.
FILE: Members of the Beaufort Tea Party listen during the Capital Sales Project Commission's first meeting in the County Council Chambers the evening of April 10, 2014, in Beaufort. Staff photo

The Beaufort Tea Party is worried a proposed 1 percent capital projects sales tax would overburden poor Beaufort County residents still reeling from last year's property tax increases, according to group leader Ann Ubelis.

Such a tax could also discourage the county from dipping into the funds it already collects to pay for improvements, including a $10 fee on vehicle registration that is supposed to be devoted to road maintenance, Ubelis said.

"When you consider $10 per car registration ... and I'm only talking about household vehicles, that is a large chunk of money already going to capital projects," she said.

Ubelis argued against the proposed tax Thursday afternoon in Beaufort at a meeting of the county's Capital Project Sales Tax Commission.

The panel, made up of six local businessmen, is charged with reviewing capital improvement projects that would be funded by the tax.

However, the commission will not decide whether there should be a tax -- utlimately it will be up to voters, commission chairman Craig Forrest said.

Over the next six weeks, the commission will compile its master list from lists of needed improvements submitted by the county, city of Beaufort and towns of Port Royal, Bluffton and Hilton Head Island.

The projects range from stormwater improvements in Beaufort to replacing the bridges to Hilton Head.

Such a tax would expire after a certain number of years or when all the projects are paid in full. Voters approved such a tax in 2006 to raise money for road improvements, including the widening of U.S. 278 and S.C. 170 in southern Beaufort County and construction of a new J.E. McTeer Bridge in the northern county. That tax expired in 2012.

If the commission can compile a final list of projects by this summer, county leaders hope to put the sales tax question before voters this November.

The commission has not begun reviewing the projects, but hopes to establish a preliminary list by the beginning of June, Forrest said.

The group will hold at least four meetings this month and in May to prioritize the projects. The meetings will also include presentations from the local governments and comments from residents, he said.

The meetings are scheduled for April 21, April 28, May 12 and May 19, the commission decided. Exact times and locations have not been decided, but there will be two in northern Beaufort County and two will be in southern locations, Forrest, of Sun City Hilton Head, said.

Other commission members include Scott Richardson of Hilton Head, Mike Covert of Bluffton, Scott Graber of Port Royal, Jeffery Robinowich of Bluffton and Bill Robinson of Beaufort.

The group must forward the final ballot language to Beaufort County Council for its approval by the end of June if the question is to appear on the ballot, county attorney Josh Gruber said.

"I'm real, real concerned about the time frame of this particular effort," Forrest said. "We're certainly under the gun."

The capital project sales tax is one of two types of local option taxes the county has considered putting before voters.

Last month, County Council opposed the second type, one tax that would raise additional revenue for the municipalities and the county in exchange for property-tax relief for residents.

That option had the support of leaders in Beaufort, Bluffton and Port Royal, but County Council members contend it wouldn't raise enough money and had no clear expiration date.

Under state law, only county governments can enact such taxes.

Follow reporter Zach Murdock at

Related content: