Instead of paying property taxes on the nuclear complexes at the Savannah River Site, Uncle Sam pays an annual fee based on land value to the three counties - Aiken, Barnwell and Allendale - on whose nearly 300 square miles the site sits.
Aiken County is due to receive $808,000 this year, or $11 an acre, the smallest compensation of the three counties in terms of acreage. The fee is supposed to be renegotiated periodically, and the last time this happened for Aiken County was in 1989.
Since then, there have been several upward countywide property reappraisals that suggest the feds' fee should be boosted - and now the Aiken County Council is making noises about opening up talks on the matter with the U.S. Department of Energy.
The council hasn't made a negotiating request yet, but it has put on hold acceptance of the DOE's $808,000 check, which could be seen as a preliminary move toward talks and a hoped-for higher fee.
One reason the council has held off on land value negotiations in recent years is that it didn't want to distract the DOE from new missions it was pursuing for SRS. But those missions have either been delayed or fallen through, and now there's no good reason for county officials not to seek a higher fee.
Jobs are not growing at SRS; they're shrinking. Fewer SRS employees translates into a smaller tax base for the counties, so a land value hike would be especially helpful to Aiken County's bottom line.
We would remind council members - some of whom are upset with the DOE for "creating jobs all over the country, but none of them here at SRS" - of the adage that you can catch more flies with sugar than with vinegar.
In short, don't go into talks with a hot head; it could turn DOE negotiators off. Instead, go in with a hot hand: Politely remind the feds what a good deal they have. If they were paying property taxes on SRS' nuclear facilities, valued at $15 billion, they'd be shelling out $100 million a year.
Somewhere between $808,000 and $100 million, there is a fee that is fair and reasonable to both sides.
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