North Augusta's TIF on hold, so School Board will wait

  • Saturday, March 16, 2013

With the City of North Augusta's postponement of its own public hearing on its public-private economic development initiative, the Aiken County Board of Education no longer has an immediate need to approve or reject its own involvement in "Project Jackson."
School Board members previously were scheduled to take a vote at a regular board meeting Tuesday night.
The City initially had set its own hearing to hear public comments on amendments from an earlier tax incremental financing (TIF) mechanism to pay for portions of major changes to 24 acres near Hammond's Ferry Riverfront.
With the postponement of that meeting, and, with revisions likely in the next month or two, the School Board has no need to consider or vote on the TIF proposal at this time, School Board attorney Bill Burkhalter said in a press release.
The delay likely will extend into late spring or into the summer. Once the City of North Augusta brings back a new plan, the Aiken County Council and the School Board would have 45 days to take action either way.
The School Board was asked by the City to defer potential tax revenue for up to 30 years. That would help provide the tax revenue needed for the City of North Augusta to pay back about $43 million for its part of the $160 million project - including a minor league baseball stadium and parking space, a hotel, convention center, retail and commercial space and housing projects. The stadium is intended to provide a new home to the Augusta GreenJackets team.
North Augusta officials had made the same request to the Aiken County Council.
Earlier this month, the council rejected its participation, with four council members casting "no" votes, two voting in favor and two abstaining.
"Obviously, what we proposed so far wouldn't work with the County or the School Board," North Augusta Mayor Lark Jones said in a phone message Tuesday. "When the County didn't go with it, there was no sense going forward with the School Board."
As a result, the City has pulled back to rework the numbers, Jones said, and make one more effort to come up with solutions to some of the issues the County Council and the School Board had indicated.
When the County Council turned down the TIF plan earlier this month, Councilman Scott Singer said he would have supported the proposal if property tax values were reset to 2012 values rather than those in 1996. School Board member Tad Barber agreed Tuesday, and he also would like to see the TIF payback reduced from the current 23- to 30-year projection.
"We expected they (the City) would pull out for now to make modifications," Barber said, "especially in light of the fact that the County turned it down. They would rather not risk us voting it down as well."
Glover recognizes those concerns are paramount for the County and School Board.
"But there's a danger in that, if you bring up the values and decrease the amount of time," he said. "We have to find a happy medium somewhere."
When the County declined to support the TIF plan as proposed, officials of Greenstone Properties - the development group working with the City - were disappointed. Greenstone representatives will meet with City officials this week, and Greenstone executive Chris Schoen remains optimistic.
"We are encouraged by the tremendous support from both the residents and the business community and will do what it takes to make this development a reality for North Augusta," Schoen said in a press release. "We anticipate a negotiated settlement where the GreenJackets and Greenstone will stretch as far as possible to get to a structure that works for all the stakeholders."
Still, the stadium concern emerged from the City of North Augusta's initial meeting with the School Board and then again during the School Board's public hearing on the plan last month. Board member Levi Green and Barber have doubts about the construction of a minor league stadium as the GreenJackets' new venue.
"We don't build stadiums for our own schools. I don't see a real benefit from the standpoint of tying up our own funds in building this stadium," Green said last week.
Barber pointed out that the Georgia Dome is only 20 years old, but, if a new stadium for the Atlanta Falcons is built, the Dome would be torn down. If something similar happened in North Augusta, Aiken County would "still be on the hook for 10 years."
The process will depend on how the City and Greenstone can structure the package, Glover said - making a quality project with something the County and School Board can support.
If nothing can satisfy the County Council and the School Board, Jones said, they should let the City know in reasonable time "to save everybody a lot of time. We're operating now under the impression that a number of members of each body had some objections that could be overcome and hopefully remove those objections."

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