Board of Education considers sales tax proposal

The Beaufort County Board of Education recently began discussing options on how to finance new school construction required to house increasing numbers of students. One option discussed by Board members was a one-penny sales tax proposal that would, if approved by voters, also provide property tax relief for home, business and vehicle owners.

Board members indicated that they would continue to discuss the idea during the coming weeks.

Projections indicate that student enrollment will increase by more than 3,000 – most of those students living in southern Beaufort County – over the next decade. District student enrollment projections have been accurate in recent years, with only minimal differences between projections and eventual totals.

District plans call for building three new schools in the Bluffton area, expanding Hilton Head Island middle and high schools, adding new wings at May River High and River Ridge Academy, building wrestling and gym additions at Beaufort, Bluffton and Whale Branch Early College high schools, and upgrading heating and air-conditioning systems.

“We know we have the needs,” Superintendent Jeff Moss told Board members. “It’s a matter of how we fund our absolutely necessary building projects – and whether we provide property tax relief at the same time.”

Moss recommended that the Board consider a 1-cent countywide sales tax that would have to be approved by county voters in November 2016. Counties can bring such a sales tax proposal to voters under state law, and voters in five South Carolina counties – Aiken, Anderson, Charleston, Cherokee and Horry – have approved similar measures.

A one-penny tax could be in effect for 15 years and bring in an estimated $483 million, or for 10 years and bring in an estimated $316 million. Moss said that he prefers the 10-year version.

He also recommended that the Board allocate one-third of the revenues to provide property tax relief. The district estimates that such a tax break would save resident home owners about $127 per year on a $300,000 house and nonresident home owners about $190 per year on a $300,000 house. Additional property tax savings would accrue for business owners and for county residents who own cars or trucks.

Moss also suggested that Board members could offer to share some of the sales tax revenues with the University of South Carolina Beaufort and the Technical College of the Lowcountry if they wished to participate. He recommended about $24.1 million apiece over 15 years or $17 million apiece over 10 years. Moss noted that hundreds of students earn free college course credits through dual enrollment courses offered in district high schools by TCL, and USCB is considering an expansion of its teacher education programs.

Partnering with Beaufort County Council on a sales tax referendum – and sharing the revenues from such a tax – would not meet the district’s growth-related needs, Moss said.

Moss, district Chief Finance and Operations Officer Phyllis White and two school bond experts answered Board members questions at tonight’s meeting. The superintendent added that if the Board eventually supports taking the sales tax proposal to voters in November, there would be many opportunities for voters to get detailed information before that time.

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