USCB and TCL voted out of school sales tax plan

School Sales Tax

FROM THE ISLAND PACKET: BY REBECCA LURYE, AUGUST 3, 2016
rlurye@islandpacket.com

Only the Beaufort County School District now stands to benefit from its 1 percent educational sales tax referendum, after board members decided Tuesday against sharing revenue with two higher education institutions.

The board was one vote shy of the eight needed to include the University of South Carolina Beaufort and Technical College of the Lowcountry on the district’s tax referendum. The board needed two-thirds of its full body to approve the measure, which would have allotted up to $14.1 million apiece to USCB and TCL over 10 years.

Three members, JoAnn Orischak, Michael Rivers and David Striebinger, voted against the agreement. Board chairwoman Mary Cordray, who is USCB’s budget director, abstained.

The harshest critics of the dashed agreement, like Greater Republican Club president Joe Iaco, called the plan to share the money with the colleges an attempt to buy votes for the sales tax plan. Others, like Beaufort representative Striebinger, said they simply thought the district should ask only for what it needs and return the rest of the sales tax revenue to voters.

“Many board members think we’re K-16,” he said Wednesday, referring to the idea that education does not stop after 12th grade but continues into post-secondary. “I just disagree with that. I think (USCB and TCL) are great institutions, but I just don’t see that as within our purview to give money to them.”

Rivers, meanwhile, a former student of TCL and USCB, said he voted down the agreement because of lack of trust from the public and an apparent perception that the district is “corrupt.”

The school district’s 1 percent sales tax is expected to generate about $282 million over 10 years. About $217 million of the revenue would go toward capital projects, such as new schools, roof replacements and HVAC upgrades, and another portion would be used to reduce residents’ property taxes. It wasn’t clear Wednesday how the estimated $28.2 million in revenue that was set aside for the two institutions would be used.

“That $28.2 million figure, just like the overall total, is just an estimate because we can’t know how much money the education sales tax would bring in,” spokesman Jim Foster said Wednesday. “That being said, any revenues that would have gone to USCB or TCL could be used to provide additional tax relief to Beaufort County taxpayers and/or reduce the district’s debt.”

Attempts to reach Cordray and Superintendent Jeff Moss, who first suggested the money sharing, were unsuccessful Wednesday.

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