North Augusta flouts spirit of TIF law to push stadium scheme

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In my recent letter to the editor (“Stadium project a bad idea,” Jan. 23), I wrote about how North Augusta’s “Project Jackson” fails on so many levels, from city planning, to preserving the character of the brick pond park, to the degraded quality of life of residents who will have to deal with adverse social and community consequences of a 5,000-seat baseball stadium.

THIS TIME I would like to show you why “Project Jackson” fails legally. In fact, the project is in such violation of the law, citizens should ask every candidate for North Augusta City Council the following question: Are you in favor of taking school tax money away from the schools under the pretext of eradicating blight in order to build a baseball stadium that has no economic impact on our city?

If their answer is some waffle about trying to accommodate the stadium with reducing the impact on local neighborhoods, blah, blah, blah, I suggest you vote for someone else.

First, a short primer on the Tax Increment Financing (TIF) law. The South Carolina legislature authorized cities to create special districts that are blighted or about to become blighted, and draft a redevelopment plan to eradicate the blight; increase the city tax base; and remove threats to the health, safety, morals and welfare of the public. (See S.C. Code Title 31, Chapter 6).

IN 1996, North Augusta created a 457-acre TIF district that encompassed the Hammond’s Ferry area, River Club and downtown. The city declared the area blighted with a stated total land value of about $997,000, or $2,200 an acre. In 1997, the Aiken County School District sued the city, claiming, among other things, that the area was not blighted. In 1999, the parties agreed to settle the matter – provided the city designated no more than five acres of commercial development in the 

TIF, and permitting the school district to collect taxes on improved residential units.

Now the city council wants to extend the TIF district another 30 years beyond its expiration in 2016 to build a baseball stadium and a parking garage between the 13th Street bridge and Hammond’s Ferry. To do that, the city needs about $43 million. So they amend the TIF district period of existence for another 30 years to pay off bonds that will be used to raise the $43 million.

TO DO THAT, the city council is asking you to suspend disbelief that there is blight in that area that needs a baseball stadium – er, excuse me, I mean, needs eradicating. City council members who voted for this needed to find one of the following conditions in that area of the TIF district:

• inadequate public or private investment;

• unmarketability of property;

• growth in crime;

• substandard housing causing an exodus of families and businesses.

The council must further find that one of those conditions “threatens the health, safety, morals and welfare of the public.” Let’s take this one at a time.

Inadequate investment: The city sold the 26 acres to the Hammond’s Ferry developer in 2007 for $437,000, or about $17,000 an acre. That’s an increase of about 700 percent from 1996. Since 2007, the property value has increased another 6.7 percent according to the Aiken County Assessor’s office, and is now worth $460,000.

Unmarketability of property: The developer bought it just five years ago. It has since gone up in value, and properties very near that location are not cheap. A riverfront lot in Hammond’s Ferry or River Club sells for about $300,000. The very existence of the 100-plus homes in Hammond’s Ferry and the 80 homes in River Club belie the claim that riverfront property isn’t marketable.

Growth in crime: I have lived here next to the proposed stadium area almost six years. I am aware of only one crime near there – it was a six-pack of Bud Light that someone threw on the ground near the entrance to the Brick Ponds. I guess if someone threw two six-packs, or a case of beer on the ground, the city could claim a growth in crime. As I think back now, one day I did see an alligator assault a turtle. Crime is basically nonexistent on the property.

AND ALL OF those conditions – which don’t even remotely exist – must be threatening the health, safety, morals or welfare of the public. There may be someone out there feeling threatened – I just haven’t met them yet.

The South Carolina statute says that TIF districts are authorized because the tax money would not flow otherwise to the school district because there would be no development without a special district to plow all the new tax revenues back into a baseball stadium – er, I mean “infrastructure.”

How do we know that is not the case? Two weeks before the city amended the TIF District, they OK’d development on that very property, plus 19 more acres with the same developer for a park, residential uses and 4,000 square feet of commercial space.

SO WHAT WE have here is a city council ignoring the spirit and the letter of the TIF law because they want to build a baseball stadium. And now they go before the Aiken County Board of Education and will tell them to ignore the law as well, and take school tax money and plow it into a baseball stadium.

Here’s the bottom line: The city wants to rob Peter (the schools) to pay Paul (the stadium). And only two years ago, the school board wanted a $236 million bond issue to help repair or replace six schools. If the school board goes along with this scheme, remember the next bond issue they ask for – and ask them why they went along with the “bread and circuses” of baseball instead of investing in our schools. When you take your child to a baseball game, wouldn’t it be nice if they actually knew how to compute a batting average?

IF THIS BASEBALL stadium is such a great idea for North Augusta, sited on the most expensive undeveloped land in the city, let’s stand it straight up. Take a $43 million bond referendum to the voters of the city and see if they want to put their tax money into an enterprise that offers no new jobs, has no new economic impact on the city and seriously degrades the character of the Brick Ponds and the surrounding environs.

By contorting the TIF law, city council avoids the voters by taking school tax money away from our already crumbling education system, all the while telling the voters they found the elusive “free lunch” – they want you to believe they can build a stadium with no cost to the taxpayer.

(The writer is president of the River Club Homeowners Association.)

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Techfan
6464
Points
Techfan 02/10/13 - 05:03 am
1
6
NIMBY?

NIMBY?

Austin Rhodes
3121
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Austin Rhodes 02/10/13 - 11:39 am
2
7
Scheme?

The most overused word in the political lexicon...next to regime.

mike1sc
217
Points
mike1sc 02/10/13 - 12:41 pm
1
8
Education Expert as Well

In addition to being the president of the "River Club Homeowners Association", you are also alleging expertise in our Education System with your very broad stroke comment of "our already crumbling education system". Your lack of knowledge concerning crime in North Augusta, and even more specifically in the Hammonds Ferry area, would lead those who know better to question your other statements as well. You obviously have never looked at a daily police report of incidents which actually do occur on a daily basis.

But by your very title you provide in your letter is by far the real reason of your complaint.....you just don't want any neighbors...do you? I wonder if you complained the same way when North Augusta built the Town Center next door to you....I couldn't find any letters from you on that subject.

Seriously, sending a letter to the Augusta newspaper is grandstanding a bit, isn't it? Your last letters to the editor concerning this being a very bad project got one response. I guess that was enough for the Chronicle's standards to present you with a guest column.

I was just wondering, could I park in your driveway at a future baseball game? Just kidding....you already knew all of us morons who support this project are not intelligent enough to own cars and have drivers licenses.

The Knave
24
Points
The Knave 02/10/13 - 01:21 pm
7
1
The NA TIF Fiasco

I don't know Steve Donohue, but what he has to say, and the way that he says it, are impressive. A few years ago, I was involved in defeating a not altogether dissimilar TIF development proposal, close to Aiken. It had all of the same earmarks as this one. That is, plenty of back-room dealings, coupled with financial nonsense and highly questionable legal maneuvering. In the end, both of these cases would have resulted in ALL Aiken County taxpayers picking up the bill, while the revenue to fund County services and public schools was reduced. You can know for certain that the promoters of such zany ideas (yes indeed, A. Rhodes, "schemes") have the welfare of a single group of people in mind -- the promoters. People who think otherwise don't know the facts, or choose to ignore them.

dwb619
114118
Points
dwb619 02/10/13 - 06:40 pm
1
2
Knave

How much credit for the defeat of "Wyatt's FOLLY' would you attribute to former Senator Ryberg? As I recall, he was the original opponent to designating this rural farm land as blighted and brownfield.

Young Fred
23014
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Young Fred 02/10/13 - 06:12 pm
4
3
“Here’s the bottom line: The

“Here’s the bottom line: The city wants to rob Peter (the schools) to pay Paul (the stadium)”

Of course!!! Every time someone trys to better the city it's at the expense of schools... or hospitals... or food stamps... or minorities... or... or... or..

Life is not a “zero sum game”. Just because a big time project that will better the city cost big bucks, does not mean that others will suffer. Oh contrar, it just might mean that everyone will benefit. Of course some will claim that it's not possible to better the area without hurting some. Really?

burninater
10622
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burninater 02/10/13 - 06:34 pm
7
0
You obviously have never

You obviously have never looked at a daily police report of incidents which actually do occur on a daily basis.
------
Living right on top of the bluff over Hammond's Ferry, I call BS on that claim. Prove it. Link your daily crime reports, demonstrating the "criminal blight" of the proposed development area.

Little Lamb
51854
Points
Little Lamb 02/10/13 - 09:43 pm
5
1
TAD

Augusta has a similar scheme as S.C.'s BID. It's called the "Tax Allocation District" (TAD). Yes, the land to be granted this special tax treatment is supposed to be blighted. Where was Augusta's first TAD, you ask? Why, it was granted to the developers of the current COSTCO complex. That land was no more blighted than was Billy Morris's mansion. It was prime woodland along Riverwatch Parkway.

These TADs and BIDs are nothing more than crony capitalism, with the tax savings for the millionaire developers taken from the pockets of ordinary taxpayers.

Roman_1
4
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Roman_1 07/19/14 - 04:26 pm
0
0
Response from a resident

It would appear that Mr. Donohue's comments are based on knowledge obtained specifically from the ivory tower.

In response;
Inadequate investment: I purchase my home in 2006, I have had a tax increase but unfortunately my property values have declined. For most of 2006 and 2007 Hammonds Ferry specifically had seen a lot of substantial sales of property, since that time the sales have slowed in comparison. Keep in mind, there are other phases of Hammonds Ferry but sales have not supported additional phases at this time.

Unmarketability of property: The property in "your" subdivision or Hammonds Ferry do have some impressive sales. Unfortunately when you walk outside of that comfort zone into my neighborhood of the Crystal Lake area, you have homes that are selling for $26000, and $20000 foreclosures less that two blocks from the entrance of Hammonds Ferry. Two doors away from my home, and a block away from the Hammonds Ferry entrance, you have section 8 housing. (www.zillow.com)

Growth in crime: That six pack of Bud Light that you mention about being tossed on the ground, it was stolen during a robbery from the Circle K gas station, the one near the Brick Pond Park Entrance. Oh, by the way, the reason it was "thrown on the ground", the perpetrator dropped it when the City of North Augusta Police department was chasing him through my back yard and across the neighbor's fence. A guest of mine had their car broken into right in front of my house, the neighbor down the street had a car stolen, another neighbor came home from work to find their home had been broken into, and I have had property stolen from my garage, the list can go on and on.

Some of these things can be difficult for some people to comprehend or even be aware of. The lack of crime at The River club could be due to the added benefit of additional police presence provided as a courtesy of North Augusta Public Safety. I realize it can be difficult for some to notice these things when you do not wander very far from your comfort zone.

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