BEASUFORT COUNTY, SC (WSAV) – Residents in the Lowcountry will get to have a say on a proposed new sales tax this fall.
It is a vote on an additional 1% Local Option Sales Tax set up and approved by Beaufort County Council Monday night.
People will go to the polls on November 2.
7 different municipalities in the County had signed on before that meeting asking for the tax to be put up for referendum, and County Council agreed.
“To help our residents, our businesses, and even our second homeowners to see some way to reduce their tax burden,” according to Lisa Sulka, Bluffton Mayor.
By state law, 71% of the proceeds would have to go back to residents as a property tax credit. 29% would then be split among municipalities for various projects.
“That 71% goes back into a tax credit just like our education millage does,” explains Sulka. “But it hits everyone. Our businesses never get that education millage credit, our second homeowners never do.”
No specific projects are identified in the voting language, but Bluffton Mayor Lisa Sulka believes that’s ok.
“I think we have really earned the trust of our residents to see where we are putting our money responsibly,” said Sulka. “Parks, the river, stormwater, affordable housing, economic development. we are really spending it in all the right areas that make our residents proud to live in Bluffton.”
“We have very limited ways of increasing millage nor do we want to. We want to decrease the millage rate if we can but our residents have gotten used to our perks, our parks, our trails, red lights, stormwater, working to bring businesses here so we have jobs and implementing things for schools as well.”
Beaufort County Councilman Logan Cunningham voted against moving the additional tax to a vote this year.
“You are doing this on an off-year election,” said Cunningham. “I don’t think this is the right way to quote-unquote give the people the right to voice their opinion and decide if they want it. I believe that. So then let’s put it on a general election when you know we will get 70% of the voter turnout. Not 12-15%”
“Any special interest group that wants this to get done, that has the money to promote it whatever way they see fit they get to,” continued Cunningham. “All they have to do is sway 12-15% of the population to get it done. That really makes me nervous. That’s not the voice of the people”
Cunningham is concerned by the fact the tax would be indefinite. With no end date. And very difficult to repeal.
“To even get it back to council we have to get 15% of registered voters signatures in pen,’ said Cunningham. “So door to door we have to go to get 25,000 to 30,000 signatures which we all know is impossible when you can’t even get into some neighborhoods to knock on doors.”
He also questions who will truly benefit from the property tax credits.
“71% is going back to property owners on property taxes. The majority being houses,” explains Cunningham. “Your lower-income families notoriously rent or have a lower property tax. So your relief is going to go to your 6 percenters, most of them aren’t even voters in Beaufort County because this isn’t their primary residence, somewhere else is. Or they are using this as a second property who is using it to rent to a renter who is going to pay that tax, but is not going to reap the rewards.”
And as for the claim that tourists will pay the majority of the tax money?
“So do I think they will pay all of it? No, I don’t,” said Cunningham. “Because I think the people who continue to pour money into our economy are here for three months, the rest of us are here for another nine.”
In addition, the Councilman believes this will not be the last time Council will be asking voters to increase their taxes.
“We will be coming back to them next year asking for another referendum for another one penny sales tax. We have been open about it. We have a billion dollars in infrastructure for our roads over the next 10 years that has to be done,” said Cunningham. “There’s no other way of making that money unless the state jumps in and donates a billion dollars which I don’t see happening. We are going to have to have another referendum.”
“You are going to have to pick and choose. Because if this gets passed that transportation tax won’t get passed and our roads will suffer, our infrastructure will suffer. So is that Local Option Sales Tax which gives the majority of relief to higher-income families worth it to penalize lower-income families? I don’t see how that is beneficial to Beaufort County as a whole.”
Mayor Sulka hopes that voters do their research long before casting their ballot
“Don’t go anti-tax without going and seeing if it really can benefit everybody,” said Sulka. “Just help us. Hold our feet to the fire on where we spend it. but please understand we are trying to educate you on what this really needs to be and that is tax relief number one.”