The more things change the more they stay the same.
Longtime readers of this column may remember a study that was referenced here in 2015 that concluded that, according to Beaufort County and Beaufort County School District figures, 60- plus percent of all the money raised in the seven bond and penny sales tax referenda that were passed by Beaufort County’s voters from 1995- 2015 went to improvements in the Bluffton area.
It is no longer any surprise to taxpayers in the northern part of the county that we have been paying year-after-year for the 1991 Beaufort County Council’s naïveté when they unanimously green-lighted Sun City’s PUD without giving any consideration to the inevitable explosion of costs for the necessary public improvements (schools and roads for starters) outside Sun City’s gates.
While we have shelled out millions, Del Webb and its now parent company, PulteGroup, Inc., the developers of Sun City Hilton Head, have pocketed millions more. PulteGroup’s stock (PHM on the NYSE) has nearly doubled again on revenues of $2.7B just in the past 12 months.
So, what’s new?
Last week a list fell into my hands, one for requested earmarks that has been sent by Beaufort County to Washington for U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham’s consideration.
The list tells a tale that is all too familiar to those who have been watching events for the past decade or so. It suggests that the northern part of the county and The City of Beaufort in particular are about to come up short again. And it is not because the city’s population is too small to matter. Beaufort does matter. It is because Beaufort won’t swing for the fences, and the Beaufort County municipalities south of the Broad River will and do.
There are 37 items on the county’s current wish list that total $465,727,192. Of these Beaufort is asking for $14 million, or about three percent of the total. There’s nothing wrong with what’s being requested, $5 million for the Cyber Security Training Center, $6 million for a stormwater study, and $3 million for a study of how to address sea level rise in the city, except that it is not enough.
Meanwhile — excepting items for The Beaufort-Jasper Water and Sewer Authority, The Beaufort Memorial Hospital, The Technical College of the Lowcountry, and The University of South Carolina at Beaufort that the Senator’s office will not consider to be asks from the respective municipalities, but that will instead be considered asks from the institutions themselves — Bluffton has $65 million on its list and Hilton Head Island has $186.2 million on its list.
There’s a simple political principle at work here. It goes something like this: political considerations all being equal, the more you ask for the more you get.
Let’s say each municipality gets 10 percent of its ask. Beaufort would get $1.4 million, Bluffton would get $6.5 million and Hilton Head Island would get $18.6 million. Those numbers imply that there are four times the number of residents in Bluffton than there are in Beaufort, or even more incredibly that the population of Hilton Head Island exceeds 200,000. But it is not that. It is that (calling on my old New York vocabulary) the municipalities South of the Broad have the chutzpah to ask.
By the way, according to the list, The Town of Port Royal is asking for $10 million for its Spine Road ($6 million) and Shrimp Dock ($4 million) projects which is in my view, understanding how the game is played, also not enough.
In his wisdom maybe Senator Graham and his competent and experienced staff will end up funding the items, irrespective of their sponsors, for which there is the most need, and the earmarks he puts into place will be determined fairly with a cool and apolitical eye to what’s best for the county, state and nation.
Or maybe they won’t. That ship — which is being fitted out now — will sail in September.
But here’s why this is important going forward. The President has negotiated in principle and indicated he will sign, and the U.S. House of Representatives has passed a version of a $1.2 trillion “Infrastructure Bill,” the details of which are currently being negotiated on a bi-partisan basis in the U.S. Senate.
Whether or not you agree that such a measure is a wise thing for the country’s and for your grandchildren’s financial future, if it passes it is a sure thing that we will all pay our share of the bill’s price tag now and for many years to come. Moreover, if a Federal trillion dollar Infrastructure Bill does get signed into law, as at this writing it seems likely one will be, there is also no doubt there will be a lot of new money (our money) for capital projects sloshing around in Washington and in Columbia, the most those capitol cities will very likely see for a generation.
Get ready, because then it will be up to Beaufort’s and Port Royal’s leadership to think a lot bigger than they have been, to get organized and prepared to make their cases, or else to risk having their people get left behind once again to give more than they got.
Today is not too soon for them to begin to face the challenge.
Bill Rauch was the Mayor of Beaufort from 1999 to 2008 and has twice won awards from the S.C. Press Association for his Island News columns. He can be reached at The RauchReport@gmail.com.