The Aiken County school board voted 7-2 on Tuesday night in favor of approving its participation in the proposed North Augusta Tax Incremental Financing District, which would be a source of funding for the proposed riverfront development. Board members Dwight Smith and Wesley Hightower voted against the resolution.
“We’re very pleased,” North Augusta Mayor Lark Jones said after the vote “This is the first hurdle of a long race. We’ve said that from the beginning. It’s an A to Z process. We got a long way to go but if we would’ve lost here, we would’ve been down for the count so to speak.”
Project Jackson is a proposed development along North Augusta’s riverfront that includes a 200-room resort-type hotel, restaurants, office and retail space, apartments, townhomes and a baseball stadium.
North Augusta presented a new model in May for the TIF district that would be used to fund the project over 30 years. It would allow the city to collect the tax revenue on the incremental difference between rising Aiken County property values and values frozen at 1996 levels for 30 years.
The revised plan calls for 11 percent of the financing to come from the school district, and the money would not be used to fund the construction of a baseball stadium. The district would be allowed to exit the TIF after 15 years.
The city would also provide a summary report to the district annually.
The school board voted on the TIF during its regularly scheduled meeting. At the beginning of the meeting, both supporters and opponents spoke, in addition to North Augusta city officials.
Mike Stake, an Aiken resident, opposed the idea of the proposed public-private partnership.
“If you have a private enterprise that is that good of an idea, it should be able to stand on its own,” he said after the meeting.
Hightower said he voted against the resolution because he felt there were still unanswered questions.
“We have not determined whether the area is blighted or not as a school district,” he said. “There (were) other criteria that should have been met that we should have been able to determine. We didn’t do that. The only thing we said is that it’s good for the district.”
While Tuesday’s vote is a victory for the city, there’s still work to be done.
“A lot of dominoes have to flip. The first domino has flipped,” said Jones.
Now, Aiken County Council must consider its participation in the revised TIF.
“It’s not just a North Augusta project; it’s a countywide project,” said Jones. “We want them to partner with us and we’ll partner with them. If they move forward and allow participation in the TIF then the real work will begin.”