Could GreenJackets deal impact Aiken Co. schools, law enforcement?

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News 12 at 6 o'clock / Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2012

AIKEN, S.C. (WRDW) -- A 225-room hotel, around four new restaurants, and most importantly a brand new ballpark for the GreenJackets, are all in the works for North Augusta. But how will North Augusta's $150-million public-private project be financed? It'll be paid for with something called a TIF.

"A TIF stands for Tax Increment Financing," said Gary Bunker, who served on the Aiken County Council until recently.

News 12 sat down with Bunker for a crash course in TIFs.

"For example, you might have a parcel that is only generating $10,000 a year in property tax. If after development, it's generating $100,000 a year in property tax, then that incremental 90 percent goes back to pay the public investment," Bunker said.

But Bunker has several big concerns. Under state law, he says, TIFs are reserved for blighted areas. Hammond's Ferry was developed under a TIF starting in 1996, but can you still consider Hammond's Ferry a blighted area?

"If you look at the state code closely, you can put a lot of territory that you wouldn't conventionally think as blighted -- as blighted," Bunker said.

The new TIF would actually extend the current TIF through 2046. The current TIF is set to expire in 2016. North Augusta City Manager Todd Glover says the footprint, or size of the TIF, will not expand.

The extension is another concern of Bunker's. Theoretically, that means for another 30 years, property tax generated inside Hammond's Ferry won't go to the city, county or school board. Instead, it'll strictly pay for the development. That means other county taxpayers, outside the TIF, will have to pay more in taxes to keep teachers in classrooms and deputies on the streets.

"At what point in time will that area ever contribute to the county or to the city or to the school board?" Bunker said.

Bunker is also concerned that a new precedent could be set. TIFs could become the norm.

Both the school board and county council can oppose the TIF if they choose.

Bunker does admit that public funds are going to pay for things the public can enjoy in this situation.

North Augusta city leaders met with the Aiken County Board of Education Tuesday night. Wesley Hightower, a school board member, told News 12 that he has plenty more questions and concerns.

The school board will have a public input session on Monday, Feb. 25, at 6 p.m. at its office on Brookhaven Drive in Aiken. Hightower encourages the public to attend and state opinions from both sides of the aisle.

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