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Lolita Huckaby

Lowcountry Lowdown

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Primaries over? Let’s move on to November elections

By Lolita Huckaby

BEAUFORT

Barring some unexpected runoff races, Tuesday’s party primary voting should be over by now and we should know who’s facing who in the November elections.

Early voting which began two weeks prior to Tuesday’s Election Day was slightly heavier – 6,262 compared to the 2020 primaries early ballots of 5,435 – and we can speculate that’s largely due to the sheriff’s race.

The action there took place in the Republican races since no Democrats filed to run against the winner in November.

As this column is being written, will Tanner get another term to expand his empire or will the challenger JoJo Woodward be calling the shots for the next four years?

Same with the auditor race, where no Democrats filed to run. Will it be David Cadd or Willie Turral taking over the office that former auditor Jim Beckert might have left in a mess considering the County Council voted to sue him twice to force him to do his job.

County Council District 4 race was also to be decided in Tuesday’s primary race. Incumbent Alice Howard, who has been the only female on the 11-member council since being elected in 2015, faced opposition from newcomer Josh Scallate. No Democrats filed for the seat, so Tuesday will tell.

One thing’s for sure if Mike Covert of Bluffton, candidate for County Council District 6, didn’t win, there’s gonna be lawsuits.

Turns out an incorrect ballot was distributed during early voting which didn’t include Covert or his Republican opponent. County elections officials said the error affected about 70 people and was caused by redistricting changes that moved the boundary lines for that District.

Covert wants those voters to be identified and allowed to vote a correct ballot. Elections officials say that’s not possible.

Lawyers for Covert and another GOP candidate, Shellie West Hodges, who is challenging incumbent Mark Lawson of Bluffton, filed a temporary restraining order for Tuesday’s balloting in their races only. But no action was taken on the request prior to opening the polls.

Always interesting to see what the turnout will be and how many of the county’s 135,600 registered voters take seriously this freedom to elect our leaders.

County taking another look at the sales tax proposal

BEAUFORT – An issue that wasn’t on Tuesday’s ballot but definitely worth study is the proposed one cent sales tax which will be on the November ballot for “mobility” improvements.

A 19-member citizens task force, lead by Dean Moss of Port Royal, spent several months drawing up a broad-based list of projects to be funded over a 10-year period with the $700 estimated to be raised.

The County Council was scheduled Monday to give the second of three readings to the ordinance outlining the proposed sale tax referendum. But that reading was postponed after state Sen. Tom Davis urged the county officials to consider combining it with a provision that would raise even more dollars for land preservation.

The task force recommendation included $60 million for greenways which would complement the county’s Rural and Critical Lands program.

But Davis pointed to new legislation he spearheaded providing for a “Green Space” sales tax which could be used to buy development rights in projects already permitted, to reduce density.

The Senator, whose district is now primarily south of the Broad River and parts of Jasper County, called the current level of growth and development “staggering.”

“There’s no way you’re gonna pave yourself out of this problem,” he told the council as he advocated for ways to reduce density.

The citizens task force recommendations included a variety of transportation, or “mobility” projects including paving county-owned dirt roads in the northern part of the county, mass transportation improvements including ferries, and further work on the Lady’s Island business corridor.

The list also includes a number of road projects, such as $75 million for improvements to U.S. 21 and S.C. 281 from Bell Bridge to Boundary Street and then additional improvements along Boundary Street to the Woods Memorial Bridge, to the tune of $75 million.

Davis’ suggestion, which was echoed by the Coastal Conservation League, got the County Council members talking, throwing out various ideas on how to win public support.

They then decided to delay second reading on the ordinance. But it, like impact fee discussions, will be back.

Teachers thank Council for support, but ask for more

BEAUFORT – Monday night’s County Council meeting, in addition to including a work report from Sen. Tom Davis, took place before a standing-room only crowd … and it wasn’t neighbors upset about zoning changes.

It was a room full of school teachers, and school administrators and school board members. It was kinda like the old days when school supporters stormed the council chambers to protest cuts being suggested by the county elected officials who have the final say-so on local taxes.

This year, the crowd was there to politely thank the County Council for supporting the school district’s $298 million budget … but wished it could be more.

Several speakers talked about the shortage of certified teachers and the impact on students. Currently the district has 109 certified positions vacant despite “aggressive” recruiting.

Cost of living was the central factor given by the speakers. The district’s budget calls for a 3% cost-of-living increase but various pay incentives which bring the average starting salary to $37,928, ranking Beaufort County district 53rd in the state education salary rankings.

Some county council members responded so favorably they suggested the district finance people go back and figure out how much of a tax increase it would be to give teachers an even greater increase.

Council hacks solicitor’s DUI court, blesses Spanish Moss Trail

BEAUFORT – The body of 11, aka the County Council, wasn’t so generous to Solicitor Duffie Stone, who wasn’t present for budget discussions.

The council majority voted to cut $187,000 out of the Solicitor’s budget for a pilot D.U.I. project aimed at reducing the number of those cases moving through the courts.

According to their calculations, the program wasn’t working and the numbers weren’t reducing significantly.

The council suggested the Solicitor and the Sheriff get together and figure out an answer before their third and final votes on the budget in two weeks.

The council did agree to shift $400,000 within the county’s $142 million spending plan for the Spanish Moss Trail crossing of Ribaut Road in Port Royal.

The Friends of SMT have raised $700,000 through grants and donations for the crossing and now have permission of the S.C. Department of Transportation to cross that road.

Defendants in those successful DUI cases might appreciate the expanded bike trail.

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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