In order to pursue a Tax Incremental Funding mechanism to embark on a major economic development program, the City of North Augusta must have the approval of the Aiken County Board of Education and the Aiken County Council, School Board attorney Bill Burkhalter confirmed to School Board members earlier this week.
That issue has been debated by proponents and opponents alike in recent months. For its “Project Jackson,” the City of North Augusta hopes the School Board and County Council will defer tax revenue on a piece of property in the City of North Augusta for a period of 15 years, with the City also maintaining that both entities could get far more in payments during that period and afterward.
The current snag for the City of North Augusta, however, is that the County Council rejected its own participation in Project Jackson in March. The School Board never voted at that time because North Augusta officials postponed a formal public hearing in order to reconfigure their proposal to the School Board and the Council.
The City of North Augusta recently presented a new plan to the School Board. The School Board currently has no timetable to vote on the plan. City officials have not heard another proposal at this point.
“I would hope that we do it sooner than later and get it behind us,” Board member Tad Barber said on Friday. “I’d like to see us vote at the first meeting in July.”
At a meeting two weeks ago, School Board members asked Burkhalter several questions related to the TIF – which, in conjunction with private development, would result in a new minor league baseball stadium, a hotel, a conference center, a parking garage and new housing opportunities.
In response to other questions, Burkhalter told School Board members that a City of North Augusta default in the future “would not affect us negatively,” he said. “It’s the City’s responsibility for its financing program, and they would have to back it up.”
Barber has been particularly interested in the tax revenue that the School Board could realize if the TIF goes forward. The School District’s participation in the TIF only includes about 24 acres of a project that’s well more than 400 acres.
Without the TIF, the District would get an estimated $32,728 each year, Burkhalter said. With the TIF, however, the school system could expect $242,000 annually through the 15-year duration of the TIF. City officials have suggested the district could get about four times that much afterward, based on anticipated development.
“I still want to make sure these numbers work,” said Barber. “But it sounds like the District is in a position to gain a substantial amount of additional revenue, even during the 15-year TIF. That could go a long way toward some of our budget problems.”