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LOWCOUNTRY LOWDOWN

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Big might not necessarily be better 

PORT ROYAL – Well, it’s finally happened. Port Royal has more citizens than its neighbor, the City of Beaufort. 

According to the 2020 census figures, the town established in 1874 has 14,220 people who say they live there; Beaufort, the county seat incorporated in 1711, has 13,607. 

The numbers indicate Beaufort’s population grew by 10.1 percent since 2010; Port Royal’s, by 33.2 percent. 

What these numbers mean is up to anyone’s interpretation. Both municipalities have been busy in the past years annexing, expanding their boundaries. For example, Beaufort still is the “largest” in size at 25 square miles compared to Port Royal at 19.55 square miles. 

But while Port Royal has been busy expanding to take in apartment developments, especially long Paris Island Gateway and S.C. 170, Beaufort has been taking in largely commercial tracts which have helped promote its tax base. 

However one might interpret the numbers, it means neither municipality can truly claim to be a “sleepy, quiet, little town” in its promotional materials. 

More people expect more services; County Council prepares space for next 30 years 

BEAUFORT – County Council got its first look last week at a long-range facilities plan that’s going to have some interesting future impact on government services as well as tax bills. 

For the past year and a half, actually longer, county officials have been saying “wait for the facilities plan” when questioned about building needs. The renovated Arthur Horne Office building on Ribaut Road which grew from one to three-stories is nearing completion but construction – just like the residential development in the county – is far from over. 

Creech and Associates, an architectural firm out of Charlotte and Charleston, has been surveying existing county facilities to project building needs for the next 30 years. 

The report they presented to the County Council is, unfortunately, not posted on the county website so the people who paid for the study can look at it but council members – who conceded they had a bit of “sticker shock” stressed the recommendations are very much in the draft stage. 

A look at the draft report can be found at https:// creech-design.sharefile. com/share/view/sfe5037f312ac4377b7f7b75910d86cc9

The report takes a look at only 52 of the primarily 105 county-owned buildings. 

The report projects a doubling of future space needs, from 600,000 square feet to 1.2 million square feet. This will be to accommodate the county employees who will increase from the current 1,389 to 2,227, based on conversations with department heads and other county service providers. 

The very rough price tag for these expansions is $300 million which the consultants suggested could be paid for by sale of existing surplus property owned by the county and future budgets. 

To further stimulate the discussion, the county legal department presented a partial list of those county-owned properties that could be sold, ranging from smaller than an acre up to 32 acres. 

Just a few of the interesting options to be considered is creation of a crosswalk over Ribaut to a potential new administrative building in the old Piggly Wiggly at the corner of Ribaut and Boundary, new district offices in the Camp St. Mary’s area of southern Beaufort County, to house another officer for the solicitor and the sheriff’s department “special ops,” including space to warehouse their many pieces of mobile equipment. 

Of course the county is already at work to renovate the former federal courthouse on Bay Street to house the administrative offices of the sheriff’s department but such a move is considered “temporary” until the Sheriff gets a new consolidated Law Enforcement Center more centrally located in the county. 

It’s all numbers, and who knows what will be needed in the next 30 years if folks keep flocking here for the Lowcountry charm. 

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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