You would think that after serving 46 years in education as both a teacher and administrator, a fella would be done – retired, right? Oh no, not by a long shot! Joe Passiment, Chairman of Beaufort County Council, cares way too much to call it quits. After moving from New Jersey to Sun City in 2015, his new life was just beginning! He says he and his wife settled here for the climate, the low taxes, and (being a muscle car lover) so he can still run around in his golf cart when he gets too old to drive! Joe served on almost every committee in his beloved community before being elected to County Council in 2019 and Chair in 2020.
He is very proud of the current council. Joe says, “This council has new people who are very engaged in what we need to do. They’re well versed by reading all the backup materials, so that when they come to meetings, they ask questions and I acknowledge that they have shown their constituents who sent them here that they have done their homework about an issue before they are willing to commit. This council doesn’t just rubber stamp everything. We want to make sure we know what we’re talking about.” Joe says that COVID hit right as he was coming in as chair, and he had to find a way to keep the county running, setting up processes and procedures to help the county operate remotely. The council also learned many lessons, — especially how to use Zoom!
The mission statement for Beaufort County reads, “Our county government exists to serve the people in a cost-effective manner, so all our citizens may enjoy and appreciate a protected quality of life, natural and developed resources in a coastal environment, a diverse heritage, and economic well-being.” However, it is the three words in the vision statement that have become this council’s mantra: live, work and play. Joe says that every decision about programs, services, and the budget is carefully scrutinized through the lens of “How do we make Beaufort County the best place to live, work and play?” He says, “We have people who have moved here after COVID because they can work remotely. We have people who don’t live here, but are employed here and drive up to an hour and a half just to work here. Then there are all the people who just want to play here!”
“When we put a budget together, we have to be cognizant of our residents, because they’re going to be paying the bills,” Joe says. “We have to be aware of the people who are working here and travel here, and we must be concerned about our roads. They have to be fixed.” And for the people who can’t afford to live here, Joe shares that recently, every municipality in Beaufort and Jasper Counties have banded together to create the Beaufort Jasper Housing Trust Fund to build affordable workforce housing – a major priority in the county.
Joe strongly believes that economic development is the key to ensuring that people get to live, work and play here the way they want to. However, it is a delicate balance. The green space and critical land must be protected and preserved, while at the same time, there must be a growth strategy to add more jobs by attracting business and industries to the area. “This year, we’ve looked out two decades. We have the green print plan. We have a parks and recreation plan. We have a comprehensive plan. We have a transportation plan. We review all those plans and how they intertwine and how and when adjustments need to be made. You don’t just put a plan together and say it’s perfect forever. Things change. Look what happened on Hilton Head Island several years ago, Hurricane Matthew, the devastation it did there. It changed the landscape, we lost a quarter of a million trees.”
Finally, in Joe’s mind, a regional approach is critical to the Lowcountry’s future success. In early March, a 27-member delegation from the seven-county region, along with the Southern Carolina Alliance, traveled to Washington DC to meet with elected officials about what is needed in the region. “To receive funding for various critical projects that would benefit all of us, we must come together as a region instead of county by county,” Joe says. “We are a unique set of counties. We in Beaufort have the water, the other six have lots of land. The visit was very productive and a follow-up meeting to discuss next steps is planned.”
Beaufort County is extremely fortunate to have Joe Passiment at the helm. He is an experienced, dedicated, smart, and loyal public servant, who is deeply committed to making the county an extraordinary place where residents and visitors can “live, work and play”!