Aiken County Council is expected to make its final decision on Project Jackson tonight.

On Sept. 10, an intense and lengthy public hearing was held at Aiken Technical College in which dozens of residents spoke for and against the proposed sports stadium, conference center and parking structures to be constructed on North Augusta's riverfront.

Council conducted its second reading and approved an extension in its participation in North Augusta's tax increment financing, often called a TIF.

The motion passed six to three – Council members Kathy Rawls, Willar Hightower and Phil Napier opposed.

Rawls did not vote for the extension because she feels that the money collected for the project is desperately needed for County operations.

In the existing 1996 TIF, the County deferred approximately $19.4 million in property taxes of the 460-acre district – $10.5 million will be “rebated” back over time as the numbers now reflect 2012 property tax levels. If it chooses to continue to participate in the TIF for another 30 years, it will defer another $16.5 million.

Hightower said he didn't feel that the area in question was “blighted,” which is required for TIF funds, according to state law.

He also wasn't comfortable with the idea of participating in this TIF for three more decades.

Napier voted no because he wanted Project Jackson to go to the voters via referendum.

The third reading is scheduled for tonight's regular Council meeting and there may be a few amendments made in the intergovernmental agreement between the County and North Augusta.

One resident suggested during the public hearing that a “clawback provision” is put in place, meaning if the project doesn't generate as much revenue as projected, some of the deferred tax money is given back to the County. Council members suggested exploring that option before the third reading.

Project Jackson has been the catalyst of several heated debates over the last few months. Supporters of the project state that it will be financially beneficial for the County as a whole and will attract the younger generation to North Augusta.

Those opposed to the project have said that the stadium, which will be the new home of the Augusta GreenJackets, will be a waste of money and not generate the large amount of revenue predicted by those trying to sell the idea to both local leaders and residents.

The meeting starts today at 7 p.m. in Aiken County Council Chambers, located at 736 Richland Ave. W.

Amy Banton is the County reporter for the Aiken Standard and has been with the publication since May 2010.