Aiken School Board plans own public hearing on TIF proposal

Following a City of North Augusta proposal on last Tuesday to the Aiken School Board about a major redevelopment plan, Board members agreed to conduct their own public hearing to hear both sides of the issue.

The hearing has been scheduled at the school district office in Aiken on Feb. 25 at 6 p.m.

North Augusta officials threw a pitch at School Board meeting on Tuesday - hoping the Board will agree to help make possible a financing mechanism for redevelopment adjacent to Hammond's Ferry that in part would build a new baseball stadium in North Augusta.

City Manager Todd Glover and consultants on "Project Jackson" described the city's hopes of amending an existing Tax Incremental Financing district.

The School District's millage rate is roughly equal to the rate of the City of North Augusta and Aiken County combined, Glover said. The city considers the School District's participation in the project as essential to generate sufficient revenue to service the debt on $43 million.

Those funds would pay for the baseball stadium, a parking garage and a conference center - combined with private investment around them, including a hotel, townhouse, single-family homes and retail stores.

The Board's deadline to approve or reject the City's request would come in mid-March.

The members agreed to a format that would seek a spokesman on each side of the issue to speak for about 30 minutes, followed by a few questions.

According to an informational paper from the City of North Augusta, a TIF doesn't add new taxes to taxpayers. However, collections on the incremental value over frozen assessed value would be set aside. In effect, it's similar to new and expanding industries that with incentives for a period of years pay fees in lieu of taxes.

Currently, the school districts get nothing in revenue from the area proposed for redevelopment, but that would change over time, City officials said.

Two North Augusta residents supported the TIF at the board meeting, but another, Steve Donohue, vigorously dissented.

He said to Board members that the project and its waiver on taxes for a new hotel, for example, "would rob the school system to build a baseball stadium."

But the city's duty for such a complex issue, Glover said, "is to get the correct information about facts and figures. This is not apples and oranges."

Board member Richard Hazen said that he has an open mind about the TIF proposal.

However, sales taxes through the investment "won't help us," he said. "I don't see that as a revenue win."

He also said any ability generated by the TIF to issue more bonds for debt service for facilities without a tax increase would be minimal.

Still, the process sounds exciting, Hazen said.

A new Board member, Tad Barber, said he's for development, but he's concerned that the school district would have more at stake than the county and North Augusta in such a TIF initiative.