Voters will decide Tuesday whether to increase the sales tax by 1 percent to pay for millions in infrastructure projects across Beaufort County.
But it isn’t as simple as it sounds. The school district also is requesting a one percent increase in the sales tax. That means voters will decide whether the county’s sales-tax rate remains at its current 6 percent rate or increases to as much as 8 percent.
The question on the ballot
Must a special one percent sales and use tax be imposed in Beaufort County for not more than four (4) years to raise the amounts specified for the following purposes?
Why vote yes?
1. County leaders say the projects are of critical importance and will improve public safety, environmental safeguards, economic development efforts and the county’s quality of life. Raising the sales tax is the most effective way to get them funded and completed quickly, they add.
2. Because visitors to Beaufort County also pay sales taxes, the burden of funding the infrastructure projects would not fall solely on the shoulders of county residents. County officials estimate as much as one-third of the tax revenue would come from out-of-towners.
3. The money raised by the tax increase must be used solely for the projects — all of which were vetted and approved by a county sales tax commission and county council. The list includes projects both north and south of the Broad River.
Why vote no?
1. Some of the projects are considered by critics to be wants rather than needs. Others are considered illogical. For example, the list includes $6.2 million to study, plan and design an arts campus on Hilton Head Island. Critics say it’s a bad idea to fund the work when the town hasn’t even decided whether to build the campus yet. Town leaders respond that the $6.2 million won’t be spent unless Town Council decides to move forward with the campus.
2. On Tuesday’s ballot, the Beaufort County School District is also requesting that the sales tax be increased by 1 percent so it can build and renovate schools. Two sales-tax increases in one year is just too much, say critics. If both the county’s and the school district’s requests are approved by voters, the sales tax would jump from 6 percent to 8 percent.
3. A sales tax is a regressive tax, which means everyone pays the same amount regardless of how much they earn. So, a sales tax increase impacts low-income residents more.
What is the cost to me?
If approved, the referendum would add one penny in sales tax to every dollar spent in Beaufort County. The current sales tax rate is six percent, or six cents for every dollar spent.
If the question passes:
The sales tax will be increased for no more than four years or until the projects are complete — whichever comes first. The county will borrow up to $130 million to begin paying for the projects immediately. The sales-tax increase is expected to generate $120 million for the projects.
If the questions fails:
The sales tax will not be increased.
But that doesn’t mean that none of the projects would be done. County leaders say some of the projects are critical and are planning a bond issuance of up to $51 million to make the improvements regardless of whether or not the sales-tax proposal passes. Those critical projects likely include Windmill Harbour’s roadway improvements, Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office equipment upgrades and new emergency management facilities.
If the sales-tax proposal passes, the county will likely not issue the full $51 million in bonds — opting instead for a smaller bond issuance of $25 million to be used for the Beaufort County Rural and Critical Land Preservation Program and for stormwater capital improvement projects.
It wouldn’t be the first time a sales-tax proposal went nowhere. In 2014, a similar capital improvement sales tax increase was quashed by the Beaufort County Council before even making it to the ballot.
What’s in it for you?
Projects with countywide impact:
▪ Beaufort County Detention Center improvements and repairs.
▪ Purchase of new communications equipment such as radios and in-car computer systems for the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office.
▪ Sheriff’s Office traffic management system upgrades such as the installation of additional highway cameras and new equipment to broadcast advisories to drivers.
▪ Expanded Technical College of the Lowcountry programming, including culinary arts and health sciences.
▪ Safety improvements along 11 routes used by students throughout the county to get to and from school.
Projects in the Beaufort area:
▪ Waterfront and Southside park improvements.
▪ Port spine road construction.
Projects in greater Bluffton:
▪ Construction of EMS facilities in Pritchardville.
▪ Sidewalk installation along Buck Island and Simmonsville roads between May River Road and U.S. 278.
▪ Sanitary sewer installation and connection in various areas, including Old Town and the Buck Island-Simmonsville roads area.
▪ Oyster Factory Park improvements.
▪ Wetlands restoration and water quality projects such as improvements to the Rose Dhu Creek drainage pond which helps keeps stormwater and pollutants out of the May River.
▪ Calhoun Street dock expansion.
Projects in the Hilton Head Island area:
▪ Road improvements on Pinckney Island and near Windmill Habour.
▪ U.S. 278 traffic safety study.
▪ Design work for a proposed arts campus.
▪ Recreation center expansion.
Projects in Port Royal and Burton:
▪ Construction of EMS facilities in Burton.
▪ Sidewalk construction in Port Royal.
▪ Road resurfacing in Port Royal.