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Sea Pines property owners worried they could be taxed to dredge creeks and marinas inside the gated community need worry no longer, according to local legislators.
Gov. Nikki Haley vetoed a bill Monday that would allow local governments to pay for projects like dredging by assessing property owners within a special tax district without their permission. Haley said it gives governments "the ability to tax more homeowners who have not given their consent."
"The governor is for doing what it takes to dredge the Harbour Town Yacht basin, but she is not for allowing local governments to hike people's property taxes without their consent," Haley spokesman Rob Godrey said Wednesday. "If the General Assembly sends her a clean bill that expands the use of sales tax dollars to include dredging, she'll sign it."
The bill also would have allowed dredging to be paid for by counties through a local-option sales tax, subject to voter approval. But even if her veto is overridden, the carefully worded bill targeting Horry County still would not affect Sea Pines, legislators say.
What's more, dredging interests within Sea Pines say they weren't counting on legislation to help them, anyway.
A representative of the South Island Dredging Association, comprised of boat-slip owners and Sea Pines residents, said Wednesday the group plans to pay for dredging on its own.
"The dredge plan that we'll be submitting (to state and federal regulators) will be self-funding, where members of SIDA will be paying," Sea Pines resident Terry Gromel said. SIDA hopes to apply for dredging permits by the end of July, he said.
Those being called on to pay for dredging include Harbour Town Yacht Basin slip owners, Sea Pines Resort, South Beach and Gull Point homeowners associations, the Baynard Cove property owners association, and South Beach Marina, Gromel said.
Several waterways in Sea Pines are clogged, making it difficult for boats to get in or out at low tide. The problem has been discussed for years with little progress. Private groups have paid for dredging in the past, but recently had argued dredging has become too expensive to pay for on their own.
That led state Rep. Andy Patrick, R-Hilton Head Island, to author a bill to create tax districts for dredging.
Though the bill does not mandate it, Patrick said he and Sea Pines officials intended for property owners to vote on being taxed for dredging.
Community outcry ensued after Patrick's bill was introduced, and the property owners association and Community Services Associates in Sea Pines eventually rescinded support of it.
Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, blocked the bill from coming to the S.C. Senate floor. He said creating the tax district was inappropriate, given the outcry and plantation covenants that allow owners to assess themselves for community improvements without government involvement.
He lifted his objection last month after Sen. Dick Elliott, D-North Myrtle Beach, amended the bill, limiting use of the tax districts to deepening waterways connected to canals given to the public between 1965 and 2011. The only canals fitting that description are in North Myrtle Beach, so the bill no longer applies to Sea Pines, Davis and Patrick said.
Davis, though, still voted against it. Echoing Haley, he objects to levying special taxes against homeowners without their consent. He intends to support the governor's veto.
Patrick, who voted for the amended bill, said he understands Haley's objections but doubts her veto will stand.
"I'm not opposed to the concept (of allowing dredging projects to be paid for through a municipal improvement district), but my preference here was that be done by referendum," he said. "If that's not the intent of the jurisdiction to use that, that's a local decision to make."
Patrick said Haley has "a steep hill to climb" to sustain her veto, "given the vote count." It passed the House 100 to 0, and the Senate 31 to 9.
South Island Dredging Association representatives met with state and federal regulators Jan. 11 in Charleston to discuss the association's efforts to dump dredge spoil into the mouth of Calibogue Sound, where it meets the Atlantic Ocean.
SIDA has since hired engineers who are working with regulators to determine sediment-testing procedures that would be required for inshore dredge-spoil disposal.
"Once they get the conditions of the (dredging) permit and figure out how much it will cost, we'll have to go out for a vote of the membership for funding," South Beach homeowner and Town Councilman George Williams Jr. said.