Earlier this summer, Beaufort County Council rejected a proposed 10-year, $770 million penny sales tax ballot initiative that would have funded transportation infrastructure and land preservation.
Instead, they have put on the ballot a 2-year, $100 million sales tax increase to buy up land for green space and buy down density from approved developments. Voters will decide whether or not to increase taxes for this purpose.
Currently, the Chamber does not have enough information to either support or oppose the $100 million Green Space Tax referendum. The Chamber Board submitted a list of questions to County Council last month to better understand the new proposal.
This week, the Natural Resources Committee of County Council advanced an ordinance which would establish policies and methods to procure land with these potential new green space funds. The full Council will see that ordinance this coming Monday. It’s a good start, but important questions still linger.
For today’s Friday Five, here are five questions you should consider about the Green Space Referendum before you cast a ballot in November:
1) How will we fund infrastructure priorities? – There are significant unfunded road, bridge and stormwater needs across the County that green space preservation will not fix. Most state and federal funding sources require local matching dollars. Assuming there are enough state and federal funds available, from what sources will Beaufort County find local matching dollars?
2) Will this make workforce housing even harder? Every business owner I talk to is worried their employees can’t even find a place to live, let alone a home they can afford. Spending $100 million in tax dollars on local real estate would seem to drive up the cost of land even higher, putting new housing even further out of reach for many workers.
3) How large is the tax base impact? – Removing $100 million worth of acreage from the tax rolls will impact future property tax collections. Will this green space proposal put local governments in a position to raise property taxes or cut essential services in a few years or will the financial hit be modest?
4) What are the success metrics? – Before approving $100 million in new public spending, voters should know how success will be measured. Should we judge this program on the number of acres preserved, the number of new public parks created, the number of minutes spent in traffic, the number of permitted homes not built, or something else entirely?
5) Will this accelerate sprawl? – Political boundaries on the map matter little in people’s daily lives. Conserving land and reducing densities in Beaufort County seems unlikely to change the number of people traveling in to work, shop and dine. This proposal might inadvertently accelerate the pace of development in our neighboring counties (i.e.: sprawl) resulting in more miles on the road by folks who want access to the good things our County has to offer.
Please don’t confuse inquiry for opposition. Promoting carefully balanced land use that safeguards our rich historic, ecological and economic assets is one of the Chamber’s top public policy priorities.
Beaufort County voters have long prioritized land preservation for good reasons. But before they approve this new tax, voters should have confidence that promised outcomes are achievable, the implementation plan is solid, and potential unintended consequences are mitigated.