Beaufort News

County leaders leaning toward letting voters decide tax hike

A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the final capital projects list totals $199.9 million. That total is $119.9 million.

Local voters are one step closer to being able to choose whether to add a penny of sales tax to every dollar spent in Beaufort County — money that could be used on a host of infrastructure projects.

The Beaufort County Council gave preliminary approval earlier this week to a measure that would add a referendum to November’s election ballot that, if approved, would allow the county to raise $120 million in additional sales tax revenue over a period of four years.

The Capital Projects Sales Tax Commission, a panel of six that evaluates infrastructure project proposals from local governments and colleges, met about a dozen times over the past six months to whittle a massive list of proposed projects to get under that $120 million threshold.

The final projects list, which totals $119.9 million, includes items from all over the county — roadwork on Hilton Head Island, a parking garage in Beaufort and a waste disposal facility on Daufuskie Island.

The list must be approved in its entirety by the County Council before going before the voters.

“The council has one job to do to. They either approve (the entire projects list) or they don’t approve what we’ve presented,” sales tax board chairman Mike Sutton said. “They don’t have the opportunity to dig in on this and discuss and debate the merits of our proposal.”

The commission’s proposal breaks the projects into four categories: public safety, quality of life, economic development and environmental impact.

“We think it’s a very good package to offer the public in asking for their support,” Sutton said.

While all members of the council supported letting voters decide whether to tax themselves, not all agreed with Sutton’s assessment of the quality of the projects.

Some of the projects “are pure pork,” Councilwoman Cynthia Bensch said.

“Everyone is going to get their hands in the till to get what they can; that’s the way it works,” she said.

Councilman Jerry Stewart said he “think(s) it’s a good list, and I think its important to get it out to the citizens.”

“There are a few things I’d like to change,” he said. “But my rule of thumb is if you can agree to 70 percent of whats on (the projects list), its probably a good deal for the county.”

The County Council will vote next month on whether to give final approval to the referendum.

The public would vote Nov. 8.

Voters will also have a chance that day to weigh in on another 1 percent sales tax increase proposed by the Beaufort County School District.

Revenues from that tax hike are expected to generate about $282 million over the course of 10 years for the construction of new schools and other capital projects.

County Council members have expressed concerns that two sales tax referendums on the same ballot might be too much for voters to swallow.

“From the very beginning, several of us were extremely upset, and we remain concerned,” Councilman Rick Caporale said.

Jenkins Island (Windmill Harbour) Roadway Improvements$7,400,000
Pinckney Island Road Improvements$2,000,000
County Safe Routes to Schools (11):
Salem Road/Old Salem Road/Burton Hill Road
Burnt Church Road and Ulmer Road Pathway and Intersection Improvements
Joe Frazier Road
Meridian Road
Middle Road/Coosa Safe Routes to School
Stuart Point Sidewalk
US 17 Pathway Extension
Big Road
Seabrook Road
Pine Grove Road/Burton Wells Road
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive
EMS Facilities - Bluffton/Pritchardville and Burton$6,000,000
Implementation of US 278 Traffic Safety Study Recommendations$5,600,000
Detention Center Security Improvements and Repairs$1,000,000
278 Improvements Jenkins Island to Squire Pope Road$4,500,000
Sheriff's Office Communication Equipment$6,255,698
Sheriff's Office Traffic Management Improvements$836,955
Buck Island and Simmonsville Road Improvement between May River Road and US 278$750,000
Hilton Head Island Safe Routes to Schools (2):
Main Street West and Connections to US 278
William Hilton Parkway Eastbound - Gardner Drive to Jarvis Park
Resurfacing of Town of Port Royal-Owned Roads$2,500,000
Port Royal Sidewalk Construction$300,000
Sub Total:$44,692,653
Bluffton Sanitary Sewer Installation and Connection$4,000,000
Stoney Creek Sub-Basin Pond Improvements and Wetlands Restoration$4,250,000
Rose Dhu Creek Sub-Basin Pond Improvements and Wetlands Restoration$1,750,000
Oyster Factory Park Improvements$2,000,000
Daufuskie Island Consolidation of Island-Wide Solid Waste Disposal$1,800,000
Sub Total:$13,800,000
Waddell Mariculture Improvements$750,000
Beaufort Downtown Parking Garage$13,000,000
Calhoun Street Dock Improvements and Expansion$750,000
Construction of New Port Spine Road (Port Redevelopment)$4,500,000
TCL Culinary Arts Teaching Institute and the Health Sciences Expansion$10,000,000
Sub Total:$29,000,000
US 21 ITS Bridge System$500,000
Waterfront Park and Marina Improvements and Southside Park Improvements$4,000,000
Acquisition and Paving of Certain Dirt Roads on Hilton Head Island (21):
Aiken Place
Allen Road
Mackerel Drive
Pine Field Road
Sassafras Lane
Clifford Miller Road
Orage Road
Amelia Court
Amelia Drive
Bligen Road
Cobia Court
Murray Avenue
Outlaw Road
Adell Lane
Alice Perry Drive
Benjamin Drive
Great Barracuda Lane
Horse Sugar Lane
Mitchellville Road Ext
Triggerfish Trail
Christopher Drive
Arts, Entertainment & Cultural Campus$6,202,000
Pavilion at Historic Mitchelville Freedom Park$210,000
Hilton Head Island Recreation Center Expansion$10,000,000
Daufuskie Island Road Right-of-Ways$1,350,000
USCB Academic/OLLI Building (Bluffton Campus)$3,150,000
Sub Total:$32,412,000