Elections

Election 2018: What to know about the $25M Beaufort Co. land conservation referendum

Beaufort’s pristine Whitehall will be developed. Here’s what will be preserved

A developer has offered Beaufort County two options for a public park at Whitehall on Lady's Island. Beaufort County Council approved the purchase in a unanimous vote on Sept. 24, 2018.
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A developer has offered Beaufort County two options for a public park at Whitehall on Lady's Island. Beaufort County Council approved the purchase in a unanimous vote on Sept. 24, 2018.

Correction: This article has been corrected to reflect that Beaufort County Council initially considered a proposed $50-million land-preservation referendum this year before deciding in May to place the current $25-million item on the Nov. 6 ballot.

Beaufort County is once again asking citizens to support land preservation, this time in the form of a $25-million referendum voters will consider on Election Day, Nov. 6.

If passed, the referendum would fund open-land purchases and conservation efforts through the Rural and Critical Land Preservation Program.

Those efforts will be backed by bonds, which in turn will be funded by property taxes: a person with a $250,000 owner-occupied home will see their tax bill increase by an estimated $9-$10, according to county officials. Someone with a similarly-valued second home will pay an extra $15-$16.

This is the fifth referendum since 2002 seeking funding for Rural and Critical Land, according to the program’s website. The previous four have passed, the last one by more than 70 percent of the vote, according to statistics from the S.C. Election Commission.

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Here’s how the item will appear on the ballot, according to the election commission:

Shall Beaufort County, South Carolina, issue general obligation bonds, not to exceed $25 million, for the purpose of land preservation, by purchasing open land in Beaufort County in order to protect water quality, protect local waterways such as the Port Royal Sound, and local creeks and rivers such as the Okatie, Broad and May Rivers, wildlife areas, wetlands, natural lands, farmland, coastal areas, shellfish beds, and nursery areas for recreational and commercial fisheries, and beaches, and provide buffers for the Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort. All expenditures shall be subject to an annual independent audit and an amount not to exceed twenty percent (20%) of the funds created by this referendum may be used to improve existing and newly acquired open space and natural areas protected under this program.

  • Yes, In favor of the question

  • No, Opposed to the question

Both the League of Women Voters of the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Area and the Coastal Conservation League support the referendum.

Referenda history

  • 2002: voters approve $40 million
  • 2006: voters approve $60 million
  • 2012: voters approve $25 million
  • 2014: voters approve $20 million

Beaufort County Council member Rick Caporale said the county currently carries around $90 million in debt from those referenda.

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Beaufort County Council initially considered a proposed $50-million land-preservation referendum this year but halved that amount in May amid a conversation about “referendum fatigue.”

Council representatives didn’t want the item to jeopardize another ask — the 1 percent “penny tax” referendum for infrastructure and road improvement voters will also consider Nov. 6.

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