County leaders leaning toward letting voters decide tax hike

Sales Tax 5

From the Island Packet: BY LUCAS HIGH, lhigh@islandpacket.com, May 24, 2016

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 increaseproposed 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.

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