School board meeting draws dozens for, against North Augusta 'baseball' deal

A rendering of the proposed North Augusta complex. (WRDW-TV)

A rendering of the proposed North Augusta complex. (WRDW-TV)

News 12 at 11 o'clock / Monday, Feb. 25, 2013

AIKEN, S.C. (WRDW) -- It was a fiery standing-room-only meeting. The topic was the $150-million public-private project that would bring the Augusta GreenJackets to North Augusta along with a 225-room hotel, around four new restaurants, a YMCA and other things.

In this meeting, the Aiken County School Board allowed members of the public to voice their opinions.

"Why on Earth are they asking for TIF funds?" shouted one North Augusta resident who opposes the development.

Some, like Crissy Waters of North Augusta, were for it.

"This development could take North Augusta into the future, for our children and our children's children," she said.

Others, like Debbie Nix of Aiken, are strongly opposed.

"If it's going to be that great, put your own money on the line. Don't ask the taxpayer to put their money on the line," Nix said.

The project is being financed through something called a TIF, which stands for a Tax Increment Financing.

But what is a TIF?

"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," said former Aiken County Councilman Gary Bunker to News 12 a couple weeks ago.

Ultimately, it means if the property is developed in North Augusta, some tax revenue would be diverted from the City of North Augusta, Aiken County and the Aiken County Public School District, which is why school board members invited the public for comment.

"A recent survey of chamber members indicated that 84.8 percent are somewhat or strongly in support of the proposed project," said Terra Carroll, president and CEO of the North Augusta Chamber of Commerce.

Some argued it's the deal North Augusta needs. They say the land will create more tax revenue once it's developed and more than 1,000 jobs, too.

"The greater eventual gains are for the school system and the community," said one supporter.

But there was plenty of opposition, too. Steve Donohue of the River Club HOA was most prominent. Critics have always had concerns about noise and traffic, but now they are concerned about the money the school district would lose.

"I personally think voting for this TIF will be political suicide for you guys if you want to pass anything in the future," Nix said. "Because what's going to happen is they're going to say, 'You wanted a stadium, and you used our money for a stadium, and now you're asking us for money to take care of the schools that you just gave away.'"

Since the TIF began back in the 1996, this amendment would simply extend the current TIF through 2046. Legally, the school board doesn't have to vote to approve or deny the change, since the physical footprint of the TIF is not expanding, but they probably will anyway.

If the project is successful, the City of North Augusta, Aiken County and the school board will reap the benefits by 2046. Theoretically, the property will earn more then than it is now, and the money that the school board won't collect during construction will be paid back then.

The school board will have to vote to approve or deny the TIF, if they choose, before mid-March.

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