Beaufort County voters to decide on Penny tax at polls

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BEAUFORT COUNTY, SC (WSAV) – It’s a way for you to shape the future of the Lowcountry one penny at a time.

A new 1 cent sales tax referendum is on the ballot in Beaufort County next week.

The local option sales tax or LOST would add an additional penny to all purchases in the County, in return, it would give residents a property tax break.

By law, 71% of the revenue collected from the additional 1 cent sales tax goes toward a property tax reduction for residents on their homes, cars, and boats, etc. The other 29% goes directly to local governments for local projects.

Beaufort county estimates the one percent increase would bring in about $49 million to the county coffers each year.

Lisa Sulka/Bluffton mayor: “I think we have really earned the trust of our residents to see where we are putting our money responsibly. Parks, the river stormwater, affordable housing, economic development.”

County Administrator Eric Greenway says the extra money could be a big boost to multiple projects.

“It would help provide additional EMS and fire stations,” said Eric Greenway. “We are looking to do another fire station in Sun City. that funding could go to offset the cost of that if not pay for it entirely.”

Also on the list according to Greenway, are additional funds for the Hilton Head Airport expansion.

“LOST would present an excellent revenue source for us to catch up on those infrastructure projects that we have allowed to lag and to meet the needs for these new things we have to allow for due to the tremendous growth here in the county,” explains the Administrator.

The town of Bluffton wants to spend its LOST money on sewer repairs, parks, and sidewalks.

Mayors in Bluffton and Beaufort have each said visitors will pay the majority of that tax, as much as 52%, not homeowners.

While proponents tout that property tax break for everyone who lives here, Beaufort County councilman Logan Cunningham, who voted against putting it on the ballot at all, says that may not be the whole truth.

“Your lower-income families notoriously rent or have a lower property tax,” explains Cunningham. “So your relief is going to go to your 6%, 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 no matter if this passes or not, Cunningham says be ready to cast another ballot, for another penny, again next year.

“We have a billion dollars in infrastructure for our roads over the next 10 years that has to be done. 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.”

The county’s sales tax rate is currently 7%, but it will drop to 6% with the penny tax from 2018 officially ending. This referendum would bring it back to 7%, this time with that return to property owners.

The other question many people have is “when will this tax end”?

Technically it does not have an end date, it is indefinite.

After two years, it would take a petition signed by 15% of voters to bring the issue back to the ballot for another vote, this time to repeal LOST.

For more information on LOST and how it could affect your taxes, go to https://boostourcommunities.com/beaufort/

Everyone will have their say at the polls on Tuesday.

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