Although it's uncertain what exactly Aiken County Council will decide to do with Project Jackson, one thing is for sure; residents will have a public forum to express their own views.
The item pertaining to the North Augusta Tax Increment Financing plan, commonly called the TIF, unexpectedly went from being a resolution to an ordinance on Tuesday night. That means a public hearing must be held on the second of three readings.
With a resolution, Council can call for a public hearing, but it's not required, and only one vote is needed.
Resolution vs. Ordinance
According to the S.C. Municipal Association, an ordinance is a law made by local governing bodies but can also be used to adopt a rule or policy that may have a “significant impact or an extended duration.” A resolution is simply a “formal expression of opinion, will or intent” voted on by Council, states the Association's website.
County Administrator Clay Killian said the decision was made to make the plan an ordinance after consultation from outside legal counsel. Council decided to take the advice, finding it a safer approach because the item regards an exchange of funds coming back to the County, Killian said.
Much, if not all of Council seemed very comfortable with the idea, mostly because it will give the public a chance to be heard on the issue.
“I think it's the best thing; it's full disclosure,” said Councilman Andrew Siders.
North Augusta Councilman Fletcher Dickert said that it was a bit disappointing that it switched from a resolution to an ordinance; however, he could understand part of the County's rationale on the matter.
Though a public hearing wasn't scheduled along with the Project Jackson item on Tuesday, Dickert said that there were many people there to speak publicly about the matter. He stated that the change from resolution to ordinance meant nobody could do so since it was the first reading, and they will have to wait until the next meeting.
Last week, Aiken County Board of Education agreed to a limited role in funding Project Jackson through the TIF, and approval of participation from Aiken County Council is the next step to move the proposal forward. Project Jackson has been presented as a major economic development along North Augusta's waterfront, which will include a baseball stadium, convention center and more.
In the spring, Council initially turned down the Project Jackson proposal. Some Council members who were hesitant before seem more willing to give the project more consideration this time around.
Councilman Andrew Siders, who abstained from the vote in the spring, said that a lot of his questions have been answered though he still has a few more. He said both North Augusta City Administrator Todd Glover and River Club President Steve Donohue gave very informative presentations which addressed both sides of the issue.
Councilman Sandy Haskell, whose district covers a portion of North Augusta, supported the project before and still feels confident in the idea. He said it will help expand the tax base of the County, which will positively impact property taxes. Haskell believes that it will benefit not just the City of North Augusta but all of Aiken County.
Not everyone seemed to be on board with the idea. County Councilwoman Kathy Rawls commented on the condition of the land in the proposal. According to TIF law, those funds are to be used to improve a blighted area, and Rawls said during the meeting that she feels her district would better fit that criteria.
Glover quipped that maybe she should look into a TIF.
Rawls disagreed with Glover's statement that Project Jackson was similar to the fee-in-lieu of ad valorem taxes agreement that the County has with Tognum and that Council voted on Tuesday.
“I do not agree that it's the same as Tognum because it benefits the County as a whole,” Rawls said. “I think your project is going to benefit North Augusta.”
Dickert said he was quite pleased with the presentation Glover made at the meeting.
“As far as the outcome of it, I think Todd Glover knocked it out of the ball park, no pun intended,” Dickert said. “We feel it's a win-win for the City, the County and the School Board.”
The first reading passed under the consent agenda. The County is in the process of scheduling the second reading and public hearing.
Amy Banton is the County reporter for the Aiken Standard and has been with the publication since 2010.