2013 Challenges and Opportunities

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Each year, the Lady’s Island Business Professionals Association asks key individuals and elected officials in our area to share their thoughts and opinions as to the challenges and opportunities that the new year may bring.  Here are some of their responses, courtesy of LIBPA.

 Billy Keyserling: City of Beaufort mayor

 Beaufort has fared well through the nation’s financial crisis: we cut costs, increased service levels and invested in growing our city the right way into the future.While we have exciting plans for partnering with our neighboring governments and private investment into and through 2013, we must be mindful that we have not yet seen an end to the financial challenges. Given the upcoming reassessment where property values (upon which property tax is based) will fall, the yet to be determined austerity measures by the federal and state governments that may put additional financial pressures on local government and the still sagging economy, we must be very careful as we face the economic headwinds.

With that precaution, we have a lot on our plate for 2013.  The following are some of the more bold initiatives provided for in our comprehensive plan.

• New economic diversification initiatives include recruiting industries to the commerce park and ensuring our workforce is ready for skilled jobs.

• Work with Hilton Head, Bluffton, Port Royal and Beaufort County to grow the Lowcountry Economic Alliance with private sector partners.

• Launch construction of highway 21 redevelopment which is a very complicated project which will make the entry into our city safer while laying the platform for extensive growth opportunities within the city without annexation.

• Complete the new Beaufort Code and begin seeking private sector partners to engage in infill redevelopment in the downtown area.

• Continue to collaborate with the Friends of Spanish Moss Trail, The Trails Foundation, Beaufort County and The Town or Port Royal to take the wonderful new community treasure through the second phase.

• Start and Complete Phase I of the development of South Side Park in Mossy Oaks.

• Collaborate with county and other municipalities on ownership and more efficient maintenance of public parks and recreation facilities.

• Complete funding, design and construction of day dock and mooring field adjacent to the marina and the Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park.

Paul Sommerville: District 2 Beaufort County Council representative

1. Economic development must continue in earnest. We should support the economic alliance and take other actions to create more commercial participants in our tax base which is disproportionately supported by residential taxes.

2. Form-based code is very close to completion. Final touches must include review by the various constituencies in the county such as citizens, builders, developers and environmentalists

3. Beaufort County Council has made creating an office of water quality a priority. This will include a water quality laboratory created in conjunction with USCB.

4. Reassessment will occur in 2013. This will necessitate both complying with state law by rolling the millage forward to ensure revenue neutrality and considering any acutely negative impacts on property owners.  Education of the public is key.  Constituents must understand the process.

5. Identifying and ranking the road projects that will need to be completed if another referendum were to take place for another penny sales tax.

6. Prioritize and plan for services given the likelihood of flat or decreasing revenue to Beaufort County for the next several years.

7. Work with our legislators to increase Beaufort County’s fair share of revenues from the state for schools, roads and institutions of higher learning. We are the only county in the state that is forced to fund our own roads, schools and institutions of higher learning while simultaneously subsidizing the rest of the state in these same areas.

Blakely Williams: Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce President

1.  Federal Budget/Sequestration/Fiscal Cliff is our top concern for 2013.  How the climate in Washington, D.C., plays out has a tremendous impact on life in Beaufort. The chamber takes positions to:

• Support maintaining and growing the military installations in Beaufort County through the South Carolina Military Base Task Force to include funding for statewide and community efforts.

• Support efforts to prevent the federal budget sequestration and support allowing better planning for federal spending cuts.

• Support funding for an auxiliary landing field to support MCAS Beaufort.

• Support funding for the expansion of Townsend Bombing Range in McIntosh County, Ga., which supports training missions at MCAS Beaufort.

2.  Economic Development

With the City of Beaufort’s recent purchase of the Beaufort Commerce Park, the strategic advantage of our geographical location, and our amazing quality of life, our region is poised for significant economic growth and diversification.

3. Tourism Marketing saw an uptick in visitors to our region in 2012.  We continue to see the return of loyal visitors and are reaching new and potential markets to tell the story of the historic waterfront Beaufort, Port Royal and the Sea Islands.  2013 is poised to be an exceptional year for tourism in our region.

4.  Support comprehensive tax reform at the state level, including revamping the property tax reforms of 2006. Support modifying the education allocation funding formula so that it is not based on ability to raise local revenues but one where all students receive equitable funding.

5. Support streamlining the permitting process to reduce the cost of doing business and to eliminate uncertainty that stifles business growth and development. The chamber recommends implementing form-based code.

Bill Evans: Lady’s Island school board representative

1. We need to continue to push for state tax reform that gives Beaufort County its fair share; this especially applies to the formulas for computing state contributions to schools.

2. Preparations are already under way regarding the reassessment of property values and taxes. We need to keep the public thoroughly informed and involved in this process going forward; it is relatively clear that we may be heading toward lower property values and higher taxes to maintain stable revenues. This will be hard to explain to constituents unless we keep them in the discussion from the beginning.

3. Take the time necessary to select a competent and energetic new superintendent whose central focus is students.

4. Push for continued academic improvement of our schools. The last four years have been significant, we cannot lose that momentum.

5. The school board must take an active role with the other governmental institutions to make sure that we coordinate both our services and actions.

P.J. TANNER: BEAUFORT COUNTY SHERIFF

As in 2012, the budget continues to be our biggest challenge.  The price of every item used in law enforcement continues to increase as budgets constrict.  We must plan for fluctuating fuel prices as well as replacement of vital equipment ranging from automobiles to computers.  The cost of maintaining a well trained force also continues to escalate.  Our number one challenge is to continue to provide professional, well-trained law enforcement while maintaining good stewardship over the tax dollars provided us.

One of our more successful programs in the past few years is the 287G project. This is collaboration with U.S. Immigration authorities in which deputy sheriffs are commissioned as Federal deputy ICE agents.  This program vastly reduced the number of foreign born illegals in our detention center.  It has expanded its scope and works with alien victims as well as suspects.  One primary target has been the individuals who exploit the weaknesses of others through document scams and false promises.  We have conducted numerous investigations into these types of cases and brought a number of document forgers to justice. However, the program is in danger. It exists at the pleasure of the administration in Washington and there is considerable concern that the highly successful program will be disbanded in view of a more liberal policy towards immigration.

Our third priority in the upcoming year is to expand our successful school resource officer program into the elementary schools.  This is not because of some increase in crime in the elementary schools, but instead because we desire to establish a positive role model and positive influence with young people, especially at-risk young children whose only impression of law enforcement is less than stellar. We intend to implement this program utilizing officers who are assigned to Enforcement Division as a collateral duty where they use an hour or so daily to stop by elementary schools in their jurisdiction. During that visit they will mentor kids; they will eat lunch with them, answer questions, etc.  Seeing law enforcement as a friend and not someone to be avoided and feared at that age, will greatly enhance our ability to guide those same at risk youth away from gangs and bad influences later.