BEAUFORT COUNTY, S.C. (WSAV) — A statewide bill designed to protect the environment could soon be in front of Beaufort County voters.
But its not the proposal that County Council originally debated.
“It is a great program, everyone acknowledged that,” explains County Council Chairman Joe Passiment. “It is well needed. But now is not the time.”
Passiment is talking about the transportation tax, a penny sales tax proposal which was expected to be on the ballot in November but now is delayed, probably until 2024.
“This is something we can’t lose,” said Passiment. “If we lost the transportation referendum we would be in bad shape.”
With questions about the projects on the original list, and not enough time to make voters excited about an extra penny on their products, County Council feels like waiting is the best move.
The County will also look toward State and Federal funding to help ease the road issues in the meantime.
“Major roads that are the way we get people out of the county in an emergency have failed,” said Passiment. “But those are a regional situation, roads that cross County lines, so why not get federal money and not make taxpayers in Beaufort County pay for it.”
The County won’t be sitting back waiting.
“Officials will be doing surveys and design which can take 18 months,” explains the Chairman. “We are not losing anything by spending money now in place of what will take place in the future.”
“We can target projects better, then put together a much smaller referendum in 2024 which we believe will be successful to fix the rest of the roads.”
So instead of transportation, Beaufort County Council is looking to “go green”.
“I grew up in Maryland,” explains State Senator Tom Davis of Beaufort. “I saw firsthand how the development of the mid-Atlantic watershed there ruined the Chesapeake Bay for generations to come, and they’re spending hundreds of billions of dollars now to try to claim it back, but they’re never going to get a fraction of what it used to be.”
That’s why Davis helped craft the County Green Sales Tax act which the state legislature approved in April.
It now allows counties the right to use sales tax to buy undeveloped land and preserve it.
“What it allows Counties to do is place up to a 1% sales tax on the sale of goods,” says State Senator Tom Davis. “Wouldn’t apply to gasoline, wouldn’t apply to groceries.”
“Purchasing green space, open space, critical areas for development or areas we feel should not be developed intensely.”
The County Council held a first reading of the proposed tax Monday night.
That penny could yield about $350 million over 10 years to protect the “green” areas of our community.
“Maybe buying up large tracts of land and setting it aside so its not developed,” said Davis. “In other instances it may be going into communities that have already been permitted and buy down the density so its not so developed.”
“If we simply sit back and do nothing, in about 10 years we will have about double the rooftops we currently have in Beaufort County. This particular ecosystem simply cannot sustain that level of intense development.”
County council says this proposal would not have specific projects in mind because its hard to project the future, or know what will affect the area the most a decade from now.
“We know there are large plots of land all over Beaufort County that because the time is right now, developers want to come in and say this is the time we want to do that,” says Passiment. “Let’s say we do a half cent tax for 10 years,” “We won’t know over the course of 10 years what properties would come online that we want to get developed.”
Council wants to make sure its not too much of a hit to people’s pockets especially with inflation the way it is now.
So they ae still deciding if its a quarter penny, half penny or full penny that will be put on the ballot.
The second reading will be in July with a third a final reading that would make the proposal official in August.
Voters would then make a decision on how much is too much, and how much they care about that green space come November.