Is LOST the right tax for Beaufort County? Voters to decide

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BEAUFORT COUNTY, S.C. (WSAV) – On Tuesday, Beaufort County voters will head to the polls to make the decision — do I want to pay another penny in taxes?

It is called LOST or Local Option Sales Tax. A penny extra. One percent more on the sales tax you already pay at stores.

Thirty-two counties in South Carolina have already approved a similar tax.

It is designed to give money to local towns and cities to use for projects they say they need, and if you pay it now – you get money back on your property taxes later.

“At least 71% of every penny collected goes directly back into property taxpayers’ hands,” explains Beaufort Mayor Stephen Murray. “So if you own a house, a commercial building, a car, a boat, a motor home, an airplane — any of those things — you get a rebate in your property tax bill.”

“For a lot of taxpayers, you will actually get more back than you will pay in,” says Murray.

Rebecca Bass is a concerned citizen who says she’s done the research.

“I don’t refer to it as a penny tax, because to me, a penny sounds very inconsequential,” explains Bass. “If we are walking along the waterfront and found a penny, we may not even pick it up.

“But 1% on everything you buy becomes a significant amount of money.”

Bass says the people who will pay the tax aren’t always the ones getting the money back because they don’t own their own homes. She’s not sure the numbers add up.

“It is going to hit the people in our community that can least afford it,” claims Bass, “renters, people trying to survive.”

“It is a regressive tax,” continues Bass. “There’s been a lot of talk lately about affordable housing and the worker shortage and people having to commute ungodly distances just to take a low-paying job. Those are the people that this is going to hit, not the property owners.”

The mayor disagrees.

“I think you are seeing a lot of rent increases because you are seeing tax increases,” said Murray. “I don’t think long-term rentals will see a direct credit. I do think if property owners are going to see a significant credit in their property taxes.

“It does provide a cushion over the next few years on them having to raise those rents.”

Murray says the research shows that much of the tax money won’t be paid by current citizens, but tourists, which benefits locals.

“We don’t know the exact number but we estimate its significant,” says Murray. “Thirty, 40, 50% some say that’s how much tourists will cover. So having tourists and visitors pay in on some of our infrastructures and provide property tax credits I think is a more equitable and fair way to collect taxes.”

“There is no way that you or I go to Tanger Mall or Food Lion or Publix and purchase something that you are a full-time resident, a snowbird here half the year, or a tourist coming through,” says Bass. “So whatever numbers that are being put through on that are being made up.”

The mayor says the nearly $1 million a year that Beaufort expects to get from the tax increase will go toward projects like sidewalks, stormwater issues and park improvements. Murray says these are projects that aren’t big enough for state or federal grants and can slip through the cracks without some form of funding.

“It does produce a pot of money that the city of Beaufort has said we will only use for capital improvements,” explains Murray. “People are asking for these projects to get done and this is a way to do it without raising other taxes, and other people will help pay for it.”

Beaufort County Administrator Eric Greenway already has plans for the LOST money if it is approved.

“Provide additional EMS, fire stations,” said 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.”

Bass says the history of Beaufort County and its leaders makes her skeptical.

“There is no set list of projects for which this money is going to be dedicated. So in my mind it’s a slush fund.”

This 1% would replace a previous 1% transportation sales tax, which was approved in 2018 and will officially end later this month.

The LOST tax you will vote on Tuesday has no expiration date. After two years, voters would actually have to sign a petition to get it back on the ballot and voted on again. That is if they want it repealed later.

Information on LOST:

Property Tax Calculator:

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