Why County Council is charging Hilton Head a fee

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At its Aug. 24, 2020, meeting, Beaufort County Council gave final approval to an ordinance that charges a uniform service fee to Hilton Head Island property owners for the services Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office provides to the Town annually.

In May 1983, Secretary of State John T. Campbell issued a certificate of incorporation to the newly formed Town of Hilton Head Island. On Oct. 3, 1983, the newly formed Town of Hilton Head Island passed three specific ordinances related to public safety:

7-1-10 Recognition of county sheriff’s department: This ordinance states that the town shall enter into an intergovernmental service contract with the county’s sheriff’s department to provide police protection.

7-1-20 Additional services: This states the town council through appropriate negotiations may acquire additional services.

7-1-30 Other law enforcement agencies: This states the other state law enforcement agencies and federal agencies may be used to assist in maintaining law and order.

For the past 37 years, the Town compensated the County for these basic and additional services, but abruptly ended the arrangement this year.

Council engaged TischlerBise Inc., a fiscal, economic and planning consulting firm, to determine the true cost of providing basic County law enforcement services to the Town of Hilton Head Island.

TischlerBise found that the Town is receiving basic law enforcement services valued at approximately $4.4 million.

The other municipalities in Beaufort County are smaller in population and receive far fewer tourists than Hilton Head Island each year, but each has its own police department. In addition to paying their share for Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office for secondary services, the Town of Bluffton pays $6.6 million annually for its own police agency; and the City of Beaufort pays $4.5 million for its department.

As the Town of Hilton Head’s population and daily number of visitors increased, so too did the Town’s law enforcement needs. In FY20, the Town was paying $3.4 million for policing, which is $1 million less than what TischlerBise has determined to be the actual cost of services.

Beaufort County Council based its decision to charge a uniform law enforcement fee to Hilton Head property owners on TischlerBise’s analysis.

The Sheriff’s Office, a nationally accredited law enforcement agency, has not changed its level of service to Hilton Head Island, despite the Town’s change in philosophy.

County Council believes it is important that Hilton Head property owners pay their fair share of what it costs the County to provide a reliably safe community for residents, business owners and visitors.

As chairman of County Council, I am willing to meet again with Hilton Head Town Council to resolve this matter before we implement this fee. I have already sent a message to the Town Manager Steve Riley to establish such a meeting and await their response.

Joe Passiment represents District 6 and is the Chair of the Beaufort County Council.

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