Several members of Aiken County Council said a proposed North Augusta redevelopment project has its merits, but others still have questions about supporting the plan that could potentially divert roughly $1 million a year from county coffers over 30 years.
The $1 million would instead go to the City of North Augusta to help it pay off debit service incurred to finance “Project Jackson,” which calls for a baseball stadium, parking garage, and a conference center combined with private investment on approximately 24 acres adjacent to Hammond’s Ferry.
To that end, in a presentation to Council Tuesday, North Augusta Administrator Todd Glover requested that the life of the existing tax increment financing district along the riverfront be extended so that the City put that money toward the redevelopment. Essentially, North Augusta would collect on future property tax revenue generated over and above the frozen assessed value.
“Project Jackson” is a $122 million project. North Augusta’s commitment is for $43 million, to include the infrastructure, parking deck, conference center and stadium.
An analysis shows, Glover said, that there would be a $292 million one-time output into the local economy from the construction and the overall creation of more than 2,700 jobs.
“This is not a stadium project, this is not a hotel project. At its core, this is an economic development project if it’s creating that many jobs,” Glover said.
According to an informational paper from the City of North Augusta, tax increment financing doesn’t add new taxes to taxpayers. In effect, it’s similar to new and expanding industries that, with incentives, pay fees in lieu of taxes for a period of years.
North Augusta would issue bonds to cover its commitment to the redevelopment and Aiken County’s “only obligation is to send over the incremental financing from the TIF district,” said Walter Goldsmith, the City’s financial adviser.
Glover said any excess funds collected from tax increment financing would be paid to debt retirement.
The tax increment financing district in question was created in 1996 because the area was blighted, according to Glover. It was once home to several industrial mills and the ground is littered with remnants of them. It has been difficult to make the land appealing to developers.
North Augusta officials envision Project Jackson, by way of tax increment financing, changing all of that.
Councilman Chuck Smith, who represents a portion of North Augusta, said the situation is a “win-win” in many aspects.
“Twenty-seven hundred jobs in any measure is a significant boost to this city,” he said.
Aiken County resident Tina Bevington, who addressed Council Tuesday, said her concern stems from the fact that the value of land in the tax increment financing district was frozen in 1996. Land values have changed a lot since then.
“You want to make sure that’s clear to the people,” she said.
State law does not require that Aiken County Council take official action to approve extending the life of the TIF district. However, if they are to disapprove, they must take official action by March 19.