One of the questions Beaufort County voters will be asked at the ballot box Nov. 6 is whether to allow the county to issue up to $25 million in bonds to support the county’s Rural and Critical Lands Preservation Program.
A yes vote on the issue would allow the county to release up to $25 million “for the purpose of land preservation, by purchasing open land in Beaufort County in order to protect water quality, protect local waterways such as the Port Royal Sound, and local creeks and rivers such as the Okatie, Broad and May Rivers, wildlife areas, wetlands, natural lands, farmland, coastal areas, shellfish beds, and nursery areas for recreational and commercial fisheries, and beaches, and provide buffers for the Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort.”
The measure calls for all expenditures to be subject to an annual independent audit and stipulates no more than 20 percent of the funds may be used to improve existing and newly acquired open space and natural areas protected under the program.
The issue piggybacks on a recent win for area conservationists with the county’s approval to purchase a portion of the Whitehall property on Lady’s Island for an approximately 10-acre public park.
Beaufort Mayor Billy Keyserling is among those who supports the initiative.
“If one studies the impact of this program, you will see huge benefits through land preservation, conservation and recreation while managing growth through private sector, Beaufort County Open Land Trust and governmental collaboration,” Keyserling said. “In the past this program has enjoyed massive public support, but there is much work to do.”
The Rural and Critical Lands Preservation Program was created in 1999 in response to rapid population and commercial growth throughout the county that began to endanger critical waterways and threaten the coastal ecosystem. Voters passed a $40 million bond referendum in 2002 to fund land purchases and approved three more referenda over the next 15 years. As of 2017, the program had completed 104 land protection projects preserving a total of 23,869 acres.
Proponents say conserving rural and critical lands lead to increased property values, cost savings on stormwater fees, more tourism revenue, healthier citizens, more farms to produce locally-sourced food, and jobs, among other benefits.
If passed, the current referendum is estimated to cost the average homeowner approximately $12 annually.
ON THE BALLOT
Here is the verbiage of the referendum that will appear on the Nov. 6 ballot:
“Shall Beaufort County, South Carolina, issue general obligation bonds, not to exceed $25 million, for the purpose of land preservation, by purchasing open land in Beaufort County in order to protect water quality, protect local waterways such as the Port Royal Sound, and local creeks and rivers such as the Okatie, Broad and May Rivers, wildlife areas, wetlands, natural lands, farmland, coastal areas, shellfish beds, and nursery areas for recreational and commercial fisheries, and beaches, and provide buffers for the Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort. All expenditures shall be subject to an annual independent audit and an amount not to exceed twenty percent (20%) of the funds created by this referendum may be used to improve existing and newly acquired open space and natural areas protected under this program.
County GOP joins in support of transportation tax
The Beaufort County Republican Party (BCRP) Executive Committee has voted unanimously to support the proposed Transportation Sales and Use Tax on the Nov. 6 ballot.
“This support is based on the commitment from Beaufort County Council that the sales tax proceeds can only be used legally for projects stated on the ballot,” said a party spokesperson.
Sherri Zedd, Chair of the BCRP, stated that these funds are critical to our county due to the high growth and economic needs of the area. The funds would also qualify us for matching state and federal funds.
The proposed one-cent sales tax would remain in place for up to four years or until $120 million is generated, whichever comes first. The revenue would provide up to $30 million for traffic improvements on Lady’s Island between the Woods Memorial Bridge and the Chowan Creek Bridge. Another $10 would go to installation and repair of sidewalks and multi-use pathways in 24 locations throughout the county to help provide safe walking routes to schools and improved access to residential communities, and $80 million would go to traffic improvements to the U.S. 278 corridor, including repairing or replacing existing spans of the bridges to Hilton Head Island and improvements between Moss Creek Drive and Squire Pope Road.