Aiken County Board of Education members will host a public hearing Monday – seeking more information about the impact of a proposed TIF – a Tax Incremental Financing mechanism that the City of North Augusta is seeking, related to a series of redevelopment projects within the community.
The meeting will be held at the School District office, 1000 Brookhaven Drive, at 6 p.m. Board members will give attendees the opportunity on speak on the issue. The School Board will have until mid-March to provide an answer.
North Augusta officials and consultants have attended School Board and County Council meetings this month, seeking approval for the TIF initiative, called, “Project Jackson.” The project calls for both public and private investment – an amended version of an earlier 1996 TIF.
The School Board and County Council are needed to help finance the public indebtedness, but the School Board approval is considered essential to generate sufficient revenue to serve the debt on $43 million of a total project of $122 million. That’s because the School District’s millage rate is roughly equal to the combined County Council and North Augusta rates. In effect, the TIF would not lead to new tax levies. But North Augusta would get new revenue based on higher assessments on property values.
If the School Board or Council do nothing, their approval would be automatic. School Board Vice Chairman Ray Fleming doesn’t see that approach as an option.
“As a board, we can either vote yes or no or not do anything,” he said. “I personally feel at this stage, we were elected to make decisions.”
North Augusta officials believe the School Board’s support would help make possible a financial mechanism for redevelopment near Hammond’s Ferry. In part, that would help build a new stadium aimed at minor league baseball in that city, as well as a conference center. That would lead to private investment of a hotel, various housing initiatives and more.
Board member Keith Liner said he wants to see more about the TIF’s potential impact on the School District.
“They’re asking us for a 30-year commitment,” he said. “That’s a long time for us to live with a decision we’re going to make. What will we be giving up by approving it, although it will be a benefit through sales tax revenue. It’s pretty complicated, and we need to look at all aspects of it.”
The merits of the TIF are an issue within North Augusta, said board member Tad Barber, not the School Board. He wants to get a strong feeling whether the City’s numbers add up “and how it affects the schools.” But if the TIF does help the district in the long-term, “We’ll be there to cheer them on,” he said.
The TIF project doesn’t take anything away from the schools, said Todd Glover, North Augusta’s city manager. The payback of the public funding could be achieved faster in about 23 years, and taxes on private development would start going to the School District. Some immediate benefits through the TIF’s structure, however, could provide $190,000 a year for the School District’s debt-service millage, Glover said.
But it doesn’t make any sense to use tax dollars to build a stadium instead of schools, said North Augusta resident Steve Donohue. The city already has a development agreement without a TIF, he said.
“This is school tax money to build a stadium, which is a leisure activity,” Donohue said.
The discussion will boil down, said board member Richard Hazen, to whether the school district “is in favor of development (in North Augusta) and passing the revenue stream some 20 years down the road.”