Aiken Co. Council members weigh in before GreenJackets TIF vote

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News 12 at 6 o'clock / Tuesday, March 5, 2013

NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. (WRDW) -- A baseball stadium, a large hotel, new restaurants and a whole lot more could soon be built along the riverfront in North Augusta.

"As proposed, this has the opportunity to be a really, really big event for North Augusta and Aiken County," said Councilman Andrew Siders of District 7.

However, how the project would be financed has become a heated political issue. North Augusta leaders are using something called a TIF, or tax increment financing, which means if the property near Hammond's Ferry is developed, some tax revenue will be diverted from North Augusta, the Aiken County Public School District and Aiken County Government. That's why the Aiken County Council could vote to approve or deny the project in its meeting Tuesday night.

"If the math works, it's a great project," Siders said.

Siders says he'll vote for it. Councilman Chuck Smith supports it as well. Councilman Sandy Haskell says he's leaning in support of it, too.

Smith told News 12 that the project would create 2,700 construction jobs and a $292 million economic impact.

"At the end of the day, we have to think about where we want to go. Where do we want to be in the future? Where do we see ourselves?" Siders said.

However, other county council members are opposed.

Kathy Rawls, Willar Hightower, and Scott Singer say they would vote no as of now.

"One thing I learned in graduate school at the University of South Carolina -- I took finance -- was that there's no such thing as a free lunch, so there's some potential benefits with this TIF, and there are some costs," said Singer of District 2.

He says it would cost the county half a million dollars each year for 30 years.

"The decision tonight, at least in the short run, will be this economic development opportunity versus someone getting an ambulance to their house," he said.

Chairman Ronnie Young told News 12 that he's still unsure about how he'll vote. Councilwoman Lawana McKenzie says she's still unsure, too.

Council doesn't necessarily have to vote for the TIF Tuesday night, but Singer says it will. The school board will also have to vote for the proposal, unless the county votes to deny it first. That school board vote should happen on Tuesday, March 12.

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