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LOWCOUNTRY LOWDOWN

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County Council Prepares for Redistricting

BEAUFORT – U.S. Census figures aren’t scheduled for official release until Sept. 30, but Beaufort County Council’s already talking about redrawing lines. 

The Council’s executive committee this week agreed to recommend to the full Council an agreement with the S.C. Dept. of Revenue to help redraw the county’s 11 council districts before the next election in November 2022. 

Department representatives told the committee their goal is to prepare the county’s new districts by the end of 2021. 

Based on preliminary reports, Beaufort County’s population grew 19.6 percent in the last decade, adding 30,545 to a total of 186,095. The majority of growth occurred in the southern part of the county and speculation is the County Council’s makeup of 5 seats north of the Broad River-6 seats from SOB, will change. 

Neighboring Jasper County grew 21.3 percent, adding 5,023 for a total of 28,657. 

The 11 county council districts are also used for the school board seats. 

The municipal councils of Beaufort and Port Royal are made up of at-large districts so redistricting does not impact their composition. 

The General Assembly will be redrawing the state 46 Senate and 124 state House of Representatives districts. 


SLED report cites ‘disturbing increase’ in violent crime 

BEAUFORT – Earlier this month, the S.C. Law Enforcement Division (SLED) released some preliminary statistics showing “a disturbing increase in violent crime” in the Palmetto State. 

A look at 2020 reports from the City of Beaufort Police shows similar increases – Beaufort, 68 cases, up from 58 in 2019. Maybe the same is true for the Sheriff’s Department and Port Royal PD but since they don’t post their annual reports online for the public to see, … 

We all know Black lives matter. Blue lives matter. All lives matter.

But this is not a column about racism or police brutality. It’s a column about law enforcement and is the community doing enough?

Last month was National Police Week and tributes were paid to law enforcement departments around the country. At the same time, protests against police shootings in various spots have been held and hundreds arrested and property damage in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Locally, a community group, Citizens Task Force for Law Enforcement Accountability, formed last year with the purpose of taking a look at the issue of racial equality in policing. Their first report in March found the Sheriff’s Department, City of Beaufort, Port Royal and Bluffton departments’ reports following the national trend – minorities represented a majority of the arrests.

Local elected officials are now working on the 2021-22 operating budgets which include allocations for law enforcement as well as the multitude of services we’ve come to expect for our tax dollars.

We haven’t seen any indications of “defunding the police,” i.e., cutting budgets to put dollars elsewhere. But we also haven’t heard anything about expanding the departments’ budgets to handle the growth that’s occurring.

We have heard about the disagreement between Sheriff P.J. Tanner and Solicitor Duffy Stone who, during his budget request to the County Council, said his office is looking at more than four-year backlog of cases. Tanner, on the other hand, questioned that delay and accused the solicitor’s office of posturing to get more money from the county.

You have to wonder how this finger-pointing, data-throwing debate from the county’s top two law enforcement and prosecutorial representatives is going to help reduce crime.

Let’s just hope they all get the money they need.

And as we’ve heard over and over again, they NEED community support. This battle against crime is not a one-way street.

Where would you like to see your $$$ go?

COLUMBIA – Many citizens of the Lowcountry are fans of historic homes as much as anywhere in the state, but the state’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism’s request for nearly $8.4 million to restore some seems a little … just a little … frivolous.

The SCPRT has done a fine job of bringing tourists to our area – just look at all the folks clamoring to move here after visiting. And the idea to renovate three buildings adjacent to the Governor’s Mansion will surely be something of a money-maker.

But the request comes as the state elected officials, who return to work for a brief session this week, will also be considering a proposal to add $3 million to the state Department of Corrections’ budget for a mental-health counseling program.

Renovated historic homes to attract tourists or more counselors for inmates? Probably not even a fair comparison.


Speaking of new houses

HARDEEVILLE – Our neighbors in Jasper County, the Hardeeville Town Council, gave final approval last week to another major development project, a portion of the East Argent tract billed in 2017 as the largest in the town’s history.

Sun City at East Argent, a Pulte project, calls for construction of 1,540 new homes on 572 acres in what used to be the Great Swamp.

Four years ago, when master plans for the 7,000-plus-acre tract were unveiled, some 9,500 residences were envisioned along with commercial development.

The new homeowners will rely on Argent Boulevard and S.C. 170 to go anywhere but not to worry about traffic: the Hardeeville Town Council had a four-page study done by Thomas and Hutton engineers, who basically say the roadway’s going to need widening.

Lolita Huckaby Watson is a community volunteer and former reporter/editorial assistant/columnist with The Beaufort Gazette, The Savannah Morning News, Bluffton Today, Beaufort Today and The Robesonian (Lumberton, N.C.). She can be reached at bftbay@gmail.com.

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