MOUNT PLEASANT — Parks and playing fields are popular; tax increases are not.

This fall, Mount Pleasant voters will likely be asked to decide which is more important.

A proposed November referendum would ask residents if they are willing to pay a higher property tax for 15 years to fund $50 million in recreation improvements. 

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“We’ve been talking about this and council is ready to move forward,” said Town Council member Laura Hyatt at a committee meeting June 6.

As proposed, most of the money — $40 million — would be used to develop the town’s portion of the 245-acre park site Mount Pleasant jointly purchased in 2010 with Charleston County’s park system on Rifle Range Road.

Other targeted additions include renovations to Park West pool, development of a multiuse path network called Mount Pleasant Way, green space and land preservation.

The language of the referendum could change as the plan works its way through Town Council, which is expected to take a first vote on the plan June 14, following a unanimous referral from the recreation committee.

Lifegaurd Competition (copy)

An estimated $3 million in renovations to Mount Pleasant’s Park West pool could be funded by a proposed voter referendum in November 2022, asking voters’ permission for the town to borrow $50 million. File/Kathryn Ziesig/Staff

Town Administrator Eric DeMoura said the money would be dedicated to the projects specified in the referendum.

The cost of the plans would fall to Mount Pleasant property owners. The referendum calls for a 10.2 percent increase in the town’s property tax rate. That would raise more than $4 million yearly for 15 years, enough to pay back the borrowed money plus more than $10 million in expected interest, Deputy Chief Financial Officer Tammy Harness said.

The town assumes it can borrow the money at about 2.5 percent interest.

Mount Pleasant would borrow the $50 million in 2023 if the referendum were approved.

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Mount Pleasant has expensive homes and a low tax rate running less than half the rate of Charleston or North Charleston. The owner of a $500,000 home in town pays just $636 after the local option sales tax discount.

The referendum, if approved, would cost the owner of a half-million-dollar home an extra $80 yearly for 15 years.

Actual bills depend on what a property is worth, and commercial properties — apartments, stores and offices, for example — pay 50 percent more than owner-occupied homes. 

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The last time voters were asked to approve a higher property tax, which was in 2020 to fund countywide affordable housing efforts, the referendum failed in all but a handful of Mount Pleasant voting precincts.

This proposed referendum would fund improvements only in the town, where it is common for parents to complain at Town Council meetings that there aren’t enough playing fields.

The park site sits along Rifle Range Road just north of Six Mile Road. The town is about to start construction on a $10 million two-lane road that will run through the park site, dividing the town’s portion from the county’s while connecting Rifle Range Road to U.S. Highway 17.

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The county’s portion of the park is proposed to be focused on trails and natural areas, while the town’s is more focused on active recreation. The county park system has not announced plans to improve it’s share of the land, and right now the entire park is little but an entrance sign and a small parking lot.

Charleston County Parks and Recreation already collects a property tax countywide. It is 4 mills — just like the temporary tax increase Mount Pleasant is considering for the referendum.

Councilman Jake Rambo sought assurances that if the town wins approval for the new tax, it would be adjusted during reassessment years. Generally, reassessments increase the value of the tax base, so tax rates go down in order to avoid a windfall.

Some countywide tax rates are fixed, so they become worth more money every time there’s a reassessment. DeMoura said Town Council could keep that from happening by adjusting a referendum-approved tax during reassessment years.

Reach David Slade at 843-937-5552. Follow him on Twitter @DSladeNews.