Beaufort County sales tax panel’s list taking shape

Penny Sales Tax


Bluffton Today: April 6, 2016

By SCOTT THOMPSON
843-815-0800, Ext. 13 scott.thompson@blufftontoday.com

The Beaufort County Capital Project Sales Tax Commission will have at least one more meeting before it recommends a final list of projects for a 1-cent sales tax referendum to County Council.

But if council decides to take the referendum to voters in November, at least five projects are likely to appear on the list, and more than a dozen others have gained traction with the panel.

During its latest meeting Tuesday in Beaufort, the commission identified five projects totaling roughly $20 million that members said would impact all of the county’s residents.

Those projects include:

• Replacing all of the county law enforcement and emergency services agencies’ aging radios and in-car computers for $6.95 million.

• $6 million for construction of two new EMS facilities — one in Pritchardville and one in Burton.

• $4.64 million for construction of sidewalks and pathways between neighborhoods and 11 schools around the county.

• $1 million for security network improvements and other upgrades to the county detention center.

• $930,000 to upgrade the county’s traffic management network from analog to digital, add traffic cameras and eliminate gaps in highway radio advisory coverage zones.
While those projects aren’t necessarily the commission’s set top priorities, support for them has been unanimous among the six-member panel.

“If we have projects which we have defined as needs and they have countywide impact, those should be starting off pretty close to the top of the list,” Dean Moss said.
“If those were the only items on the referendum, it’d be hard for me deny those as a voter,” chairman Mike Sutton added.

But the commission is also still considering 17 projects, totaling another $71 million, as needs, including $19.5 million for various safety and traffic management upgrades along the U.S. 278 corridor from Sun City to Squire Pope Road on Hilton Head Island, as well as $5 million for engineering design work to replace and widen the bridges to Hilton Head Island.

Other projects still deemed “needs” by the commission include:

• May River preservation initiatives, additional parking spaces on Dr. Mellichamp Drive and upgrades to the Calhoun Street dock in Bluffton.

• A consolidated solid waste and recycling center and private road acquisitions on Daufuskie Island.

• A downtown parking garage and new electronic alert system for the Woods Memorial Bridge on U.S. 21 bridge in Beaufort.

“Future-driven”

During its first two rounds of deliberations, the commission has divided a 58-item, $165 million list of proposed projects into “needs” and “wants.”

But a couple projects on the “wants” list could still find their way on the proposed referendum before it goes to council for a vote.

Members agreed that a pair of projects pitched by the Technical College of the Lowcountry — an $11.6 million culinary institute and a $2.5 million expansion of the college’s health sciences facility — would support two fast-growing industries in Beaufort County.

“I think (the culinary institute is) a necessity because restaurants are employing people all over the county,” Carolyn Smith said.

And though it has been heavily criticized by a majority of the commission, a $30 million request by the town of Hilton Head to go toward a new arts and entertainment campus could still potentially receive some funds.

The campus would likely cost closer to $60 million to build, Mayor David Bennett has said, and commission members have said the project lacks too many concrete details and is too premature to be included on the ballot.

But Moss and Andrea Siebold, who represents the town on the panel, said they would be willing to include the project on the referendum for a lesser amount while various town committees determine more specifics over the next year.

Commission members agreed they would meet with town officials to see if they would be willing to scale back their request.
“We must include projects (on the list) that are future-driven,” Siebold said.

The commission will hold its next meeting 2 p.m. April 19 in County Council’s chambers in Beaufort, 100 Ribaut Road.

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