Aiken County Council's decision on Project Jackson isn't final yet.
Council is considering participating in the amended North Augusta Tax Increment Financing plan to fund a multi-million dollar project to develop a sports stadium, convention center and more at the City's waterfront. At first, the item was a resolution, meaning only one vote was needed, but it was recommended by the County attorney to be an ordinance, which requires three votes. A public hearing will be held at a later date.
On Tuesday night, during its regular meeting, the first reading of the agreement was approved by title only on Council's consent agenda.
In order to generate the needed revenue for its investment, North Augusta would collect on future property tax revenue over and above the frozen assessed value of property in the Tax Increment Financing district.
The Aiken County Board of Education agreed to a limited role in funding the development last week. Both the School Board and Aiken County already participate in the existing Tax Increment Financing district, which will be used to cover North Augusta's commitment to fund a portion of Project Jackson.
The agreement that Council is considering to amend its share of the financing mechanism on 457 acres with a 30-year diversion of tax revenue. The agreement was brought to Council this spring but turned down.
The Council chamber was packed with only standing room left 15 minutes before the meeting. Residents held signs both for and against Project Jackson.
Council heard two presentations that lasted a little more than two hours combined. The first presentation was by River Club President Steve Donohue who gave several reasons why he didn't think County Council should approve the extension of the Tax Incremental Financing Plan.
One of Donohue's major arguments was based on the law, which states that Tax Incremental Financing must be used to revitalize a “blighted” area. He questioned if the area really was in such a poor state that it would qualify under that law.
“I'm starting to wonder if words mean anything anymore,” Donohue said. “I don't think you could make a very cogent argument that this fits the law.”
He also said that he's researched land values around the county between 20 to 30 acres in size and found that the average value was $4,959 an acre. The Project Jackson land is approximately $18,000 an acre, he said.
North Augusta City Administrator Todd Glover gave a presentation, as well. He said the land does qualify under the Tax Incremental Financing law because there are foundations of several industrial buildings left over from the 1930s and 1940s. Glover added that the numbers have been adjusted to reflect 2012 land values rather than the frozen 1996 levels which was a sticking point with Council in the spring. The revenue from the growth that occurred in that district from 1996 to 2013 results in more than $8 million from the existing 25-acre footprint of Project Jackson, Glover said.
Councilman Andrew Siders, who abstained from voting in the spring, said that he's been in North Augusta's downtown and an average of seven out of 10 people eating in those restaurants are from Augusta.
“I think it's about closing that door and keeping money here in Aiken County and, to me, that's a pretty big deal,” Siders said.
Scott Singer said that he appreciated both presentations and has a lot to consider as they go through this process. He said that Council really had only one task at hand.
“My job is to make sure you're protected as tax payers,” Singer said directly to the audience.
Amy Banton is the County reporter for the Aiken Standard.