Beaufort County Council Approves Referendum for a Two-Year, $100 Million Greenspace Sales Tax

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Monday, August 8, 2022 7:16 PM

Beaufort County Council voted 9-1 to approve a Greenspace Sales Tax referendum at a rate of 1 percent for two years, collecting up to $100 million to purchase land, conservation easements, and buy down density to slow and prevent development. The money may also be used to pay off debt from past land purchases. 

Voters will decide whether to implement the tax on the November 2022 ballot.

"We have a lot of land to preserve within our County to slow growth and preserve our environment," said Beaufort County Chairman Joe Passiment.

Previous readings of the ordinance had the proposed sales tax at 1 percent for 4-years, collecting $300 million.

Council Member Paul Sommerville introduced the amendment, and Council Member Logan Cunningham seconded it. The Council voted 9-1 to amend the original ordinance.

"I was against LOST last year for many reasons, and it was defeated. A lot is different between these two referendums. Many of us ran on slowing growth, and we have been using our tools at the County level. We’ve been fighting against past municipalities decisions with them approving more rooftops. This is the opportunity for us to actually buy down those rooftops," said Council Member Logan Cunningham. "The tax gives us a good direction, has a cap and an end date."

Sen. Tom Davis was on hand to answer questions and present the Attorney General's opinions that clarified what the law entails. Davis and Rep. Shannon Erickson had led the bills through the State legislator and were signed into law by the Governor in May.

South Carolina is the tenth-fastest-growing State in the nation, and Beaufort County is the eighth-fastest growing county in the State and has continued to experience a high rate of growth during the last decade. 

The Town of Bluffton in southern Beaufort County in 2001 consisted of one square mile; today, the town's footprint exceeds 54 square miles, with 92 percent of the area under PUD zoning, and in the past decade, its population increased 156 percent.  

The population of the City of Hardeeville in southern Beaufort and Jasper counties has increased 212 percent in the past decade, and the city is processing applications for the development of a 231-acre tract adjacent to the Broad River known as Chelsea South and a 2,200-acre tract at the headwaters of the New River known as Karrh Tract.

A 2018 joint study of Lady's Island by the city of Beaufort and Beaufort County concluded new measures were needed to manage growth on the island, with the anticipated amount of growth exceeding the capacity of the island's infrastructure.

This rapid growth puts environmentally unsustainable pressures on our lands and waters in that the development and the accompanying infrastructure result in the destruction of natural wetlands, marshes, headwaters, and other waterways, thereby hampering the functioning of these systems and eliminating valuable and effective natural storm protection and flood abatement, and fish and wildlife habitat.

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