Here’s how Beaufort County voted on ‘penny tax’ for roads, land referendum

This story was updated at 6:15 a.m. Wednesday.

Beaufort County voters considered two Election Day referenda, both rooted in the stresses and strains the area continues to feel from growth and development.

As of 6 a.m. Wednesday with 100 percent of precincts reporting, unofficial polling numbers from the S.C. Election Commission indicated the Beaufort Penny Referendum passed, along with a ballot item for land preservation and open-land purchases.

  • Penny referendum — 57.96 percent “Yes” (37,770 votes), 42.04 percent “No” (27,399)

  • Land preservation and purchase — 69.84 percent “Yes” (47,710 votes), 30.16 percent “No” (20,606)

The penny referendum — commonly called the penny tax — asked voters if they would support a 1-percent sales tax increase that would fund installation and repair of roads, bridges and sidewalks in the county.

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It is expected to raise $120 million for transportation projects across the county, including: $80 million for projects on Hilton Head Island, $30 million for a corridor project on Lady’s Island, and $10 million for county sidewalk and pathway improvements.

S.C. Department of Transportation officials are assessing prospective improvements to Hilton Head’s bridges. Elsewhere, officials have cited needed improvements to the Lady’s Island corridor between Woods Memorial Bridge and the Chowan Creek Bridge.

The tax would apply to all taxable purchases made in Beaufort County. Officials estimate tourists and residents would equally shoulder the burden.

A similar item failed in 2016, when 54 percent of voters cast ballots against it.

The land-preservation referendum would fund 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.

Four similar referenda since 2002 have passed, the last one by more than 70 percent of the vote, according to the election commission.

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