North Augusta schedules closed door session ahead of school board vote

North Augusta City Council will hold a special executive session Monday to consider restructuring the riverfront development deal known as Project Jackson, according to City Councilman-elect David McGhee.

The meeting, which will not be open to the public, will allow the council to discuss the project’s future ahead of Aiken County Board of Education’s consideration of the project on Tuesday.

Under state law, City Council is allowed to discuss economic development deals behind closed doors as long as a specific reason is given for entering the executive session and no votes are taken without the public’s knowledge.

On Tuesday, the School Board will be considering North Augusta’s proposal to extend the life of an existing tax incremental financing district so that property tax revenue could fund the development of, among other items, a baseball stadium, four-star hotel, conference center and retail shops.

McGhee said Monday’s executive session will help Council “figure out what the game plan is” before the School Board’s decision on Tuesday.

He added that City officials and representatives from Greenstone Properties, the development group behind the proposed project, have been discussing the best option as far as moving forward with the deal.

Last Tuesday, Aiken County Council narrowly shot down North Augusta’s tax increment financing proposal following nearly one hour of debate.

Council members Kathy Rawls, LaWana McKenzie, Willar Hightower and Scott Singer voted to oppose the City’s proposal. Councilmen Chuck Smith and Sandy Haskell voted in favor. Councilman Andrew Siders and Chairman Ronnie Young abstained, both citing lack of information.

Despite rejecting the plan, some Council members seemed to express support for holding a special meeting to reconsider the proposal if North Augusta were to alter it.

In particular, Singer promised that if North Augusta presented a proposal adjusting the property tax values to be used in the TIF, he would call for a special meeting to reconsider it.

The property values in the existing financing district were frozen at 1996 values, but Singer would like to see those values reset to 2012 levels.

After County Council’s vote, North Augusta Mayor Lark Jones described the proposal as being on “life support.” However, he said the City will continue to talk with the developers to see if they have any interest in adjusting the proposal.

He also reiterated the value of the project, saying he felt it would generate a wide ranging, positive impact for not only North Augusta, but also Aiken County and the city of Augusta.

North Augusta resident Steve Donohue, a vocal opponent of the project, said he hopes the School Board rejects North Augusta’s proposal, adding the City should introduce a bond referendum in order to have the deal approved at the ballot box.

“Go sell it to the voters,” Donohue said.

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