Residents might get say

Dorchester County Council is weighing whether to ask voters to approve a $5 million bond referendum. The money would pay to conserve more open land for uses such as a proposed 63-acre park on the Ashley River along Bacons Bridge Road in Summerville.

Grace Beahm

ST. GEORGE -- Dorchester County Council on Monday decided to ask voters if they want to approve a bond issue to raise $5 million for new parks and conserved lands. The vote was a first reading. If the question gets final approval from council at a later date, it would be placed on the ballot in November.

The vote was unanimous. No one in the audience spoke on the issue.

"I'm hearing from a lot of citizens that they'd like to have this on the ballot," said Councilman Larry Hargett. "They'd like to have a decision on this."

Noting that Dorchester County doesn't have a park, Council Chairman Jamie Feltner said he favored going to a referendum vote "whenever you're looking at government to provide you anything. Let the public decide."

The question will get two more readings. The final vote will be in May. There won't be a public hearing.

If voters OK a bond issue in the fall, the annual property taxes on a home valued at $150,000 would increase by $4.20. Council's decision would be the first in a series of moves to try to get projects under way amid lost revenues and budget cutbacks.

Council members also want to make progress on building projects, improve the Summerville Library, begin to develop the proposed Bacons Bridge park and look for ways to help fund a Trident Technical College nursing center by spreading the payments over a few years.

If the parks issue makes it onto the November ballot, the decision will be up to residents already hostile to property tax reassessment and fee increases.

The Trust for Public Land recommended the $5 million bond figure to council in February, based on a survey of 400 residents last fall. Two-thirds said they would support paying that much to protect and improve land and to improve water quality, natural areas, wildlife habitat and parks, according to Will Abberger, trust director of conservation finance.

Council members said the ailing economy made them leery of asking property owners to take on the extra tax burden. But in a budget retreat in March, council decided to look at asking for the referendum based on the apparent desire for the parks.

Reach Bo Petersen at 937-5744 or bpetersen@postandcourier.com.