News briefs for August 25th-31st

Drought status upgraded in Beaufort, Jasper counties

The South Carolina Drought Response Committee has upgraded the drought status to “incipient” for 17 counties in the state, including Beaufort and Jasper counties.

The Bluffton station measured just 4.3 inches of rainfall from June 1 through Aug. 15. Normal precipitation for that time period is 11 to 16 inches.

According to committee member Marion Rizer, the committee faces a challenge as it tries to agree on a declaration for each county that takes into consideration multiple factors, including agriculture, forest fire risk, water supply and water quality. Conditions for each of these factors can vary widely across a particular county.

The committee will continue to monitor the situation closely and will reevaluate conditions in four to six weeks.

Town of Bluffton hires new engineering director

Bryan McIlwee has been named as the town of Bluffton’s new director of engineering.

He will direct and manage the engineering department, which includes the divisions of public works and watershed management. McIlwee is also responsible for supervising the town’s capital improvement program.

He formerly worked for the town of Hilton Head Island for eight years as the assistant town engineer and stormwater manager.

Among his tasks, McIlwee managed the design and construction of numerous road and pathway projects for the island as well as supervising the design of the Rowing and Sailing Center at Squire Pope Community Park.

McIlwee earned a bachelor’s degree in civil and environmental engineering from Virginia Tech in 2001.

Online option available for tax debt protests

The Beaufort County Treasurer’s Office is offering an online form for taxpayers wishing to protest a delinquent tax debt submitted to the Department of Revenue for collection.

On Aug. 12, Collection of Debt letters were sent to delinquent taxpayers with delinquent real and/or personal property taxes in an attempt to collect tax debts.

Previously, the only method to protest a debt was by submitting a written protest via mail. Taxpayers will now also have the option to file a protest of debt online by visiting www.beaufortcountytreasurer.com/protest.

“In the last year, the Treasurer’s Office collected over $540,000 in delinquent taxes through the Setoff Debt Collection program,” said Maria Walls, Beaufort County treasurer. “By offering an online protest option, a taxpayer may conveniently dispute and hopefully resolve the debt owed prior to having their state refund garnished for the debt.”

Taxpayers will be able to protest delinquent debts in writing, by mail or using the new online option within 30 days of the date listed on their letter.

Mosquito spraying may take place through Aug. 26

Beaufort County Mosquito Control may conduct aerial training, surveillance, and/or spray missions that may include the application of EPA-registered public health insecticides during daylight hours through Friday, Aug. 26.

It uses low-flying aircraft and its aerial spraying is dependent upon ideal weather.

It does not treat the salt marsh habitats for adult mosquitoes during these aerial operations.

For additional information, call 843-255-5800.

County, state jobless rates are falling

The state unemployment rate fell to 5.2 percent in July from 5.4 percent in June.

Beaufort County’s unemployment rate fell from 5.2 percent in June to 4.9 percent in July.

“When we talk about priorities like workforce training and investments in education and students, there’s a reason we do it: It’s paying off as July’s (statewide) unemployment rate dropped to 5.2 percent,” said Gov. Nikki Haley. “We are excited to celebrate another month of record-low unemployment that includes three straight months of decline, and we look forward to keeping up the momentum.”

Bridges Prep to buy site for new K-12 campus

An 18-acre site off Robert Smalls Parkway in Port Royal is being purchased as the home for a new Bridges Preparatory School campus.

The Bridges Prep board approved the purchase recently contingent on tests and studies confirming the suitability of the site for a charter school campus. Those studies include traffic analyses, utilities access and wetlands.

“We have worked many years to get to this point. We have 18 acres and it’s ours once we do our due diligence,” said board Chair Dee Matthews.

The property is across S.C. 170 from the BJWSA water tower and is near the former “fun park” and Barrier Island Marine. It is near Goethe Hill Road and is south of Cross Creek Shopping Center and Walmart.

Bridges Prep’s board anticipates building a 90,000-square-foot facility to house all grades from K-12.

Although the school only started offering ninth grade this year, by the time the school opens, those students will be juniors.

“We fully expect to have our first graduating class graduate from the new facility,” said Dr. Nick Ithomitis, Bridges head of school. “The purchase is contingent on a variety of things that must be done to ensure the site is suitable for a school. But in all honesty, this is a giant leap forward in our quest for a new school.”

An almost $10 million federal loan will pay for the land, construction and equipping the new school, though Bridges leaders said they will seek additional funds to expand the project to include all high school grades.

Bluffton, Hilton Head get retirement accolades 

Bluffton and Hilton Head Island both received kudos recently.

Bluffton has been named to the “Best Places to Retire” list by Southern Living Magazine, while Hilton Head Island was named one of the most “tax friendliest places for retirees in South Carolina” by SmartAsset, a New York-based financial technology company.

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