If local voters pass a November referendum requesting a penny tax increase, homeowners and business owners will see about a one-third reduction in their property taxes.
The estimated $282 million revenue anticipated over 10 years from the tax increase will then enable the Beaufort County School District to carry out much-needed improvements, maintenance tasks and new construction.
On May 31, the county’s board of education approved placing the Educational Capital Improvement Sales and Use Tax referendum on the November 2016 general election ballot.
According to the district’s press release following the vote, “If approved, the one-penny sales tax would generate revenue to fund the district’s capital needs for the next 10 years and also share the responsibility for generating those funds among property owners, renters, businesses and tourists.”
The district routinely pays back interest and principal on bonds taken out in order to work on the school facilities. Residents pay toward that through their property taxes, or debt service.
School officials anticipate a revenue of $282 million by adding a penny per dollar to the taxes already collected on such items as paper products, soap, pet food, alcoholic beverages, ready-to-drink beverages, ready-to-eat hot foods and more.
Who will pay that extra penny?
Not just Beaufort County residents, said Phyllis White, the district chief operational services officer, who has monitored and examined every detail of the system’s finances for the past several years.
“Anybody who comes into the county. You stop and buy something, you’ve just contributed to our mortgage payment,” White said.
Why ask for a penny tax referendum in the first place?
Growth. School officials say the county population is expected to increase to about 185,220 in 2020.
“And they won’t all be adults,” said Jim Foster, district director of communications. “Our projections have been remarkably accurate in the recent past and in the next 10 years, we are expecting 3,000 additional kids.”
Included among the many line items are the purchase of land and construction for two new Bluffton schools; a new wing for May River High School; HVAC upgrades for 12 schools, roof replacements for 12 schools; addition of a gym and auditorium for Whale Branch; additions to River Ridge, Hilton Head middle and high schools, wrestling rooms for Bluffton and Beaufort high schools; and concessions and parking for River Ridge.
The grand total for the projects is $217,108,523 – well below the anticipated $282 million revenue expected from the penny tax.
Gwyneth J. Saunders is a veteran journalist and freelance writer living in Bluffton.