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Councilman Jones presents alternate plans for economic development

Posted: September 10, 2015 5:15 p.m.
Updated: September 11, 2015 1:00 a.m.
Gary Phillips/C-I

Kershaw County Administrator Vic Carpenter addresses council members during Tuesday’s meeting about the need to improve infrastructure at the county’s industrial sites.

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When Kershaw County Council meets Sept. 22, it will consider six proposals on infrastructure improvements in the county’s industrial parks in hopes of luring new businesses or getting existing businesses to expand operations.

The number of proposals grew from four to six Tuesday when Councilman Jimmy Jones presented two alternate plans. Both plans would use county reserve funds, rather than taking out general obligation bonds as outlined in four other plans presented to council by Kershaw County Administrator Vic Carpenter in August.

Then, Carpenter said counties with which Kershaw County competes for industries are more successful because they have better developed industrial sites, saving prospective companies time when choosing a location. General obligation bonds could run as high as $15 million, depending on how much development the county decides to pursue.

Tuesday, Jones said he was presenting the alternatives as a taxpayer and representative of the people.

“I’ve been thinking about this massive potential debt. It is a substantial amount of money which gets even bigger with interest. The total payback with interest could be as much as $30 million,” Jones said. “Before we saddle the taxpayer with this obligation, I’d like for us to consider alternatives. What I’m saying is, we don’t have to borrow any money. We’ll use the cash we have on hand in our reserves, not to exceed $4 million.”

Jones said the county has approximately $10 million in cash reserves and investing up to $4 million in economic development would still leave plenty to operate the county in the case of an emergency.

“This will allow us to invest in ourselves, live within our means and test the waters. Let’s get something for our investment before we raise taxes for any bond issue. Remember, we already have some vacant buildings and land available in our industrial parks,” Jones said. 

Carpenter continued the presentation and outlined Jones’ two proposals, including what improvements they would entail and the estimated costs for each one. 

“Our current offerings are not competitive with other counties. One thing we hear loud and clear from industries when they come to look at us is our sites are too wooded, they’re not level, they can’t get into them and they can’t envision themselves on that site. They can’t see how it would look with them located on that property,” Carpenter said. “Additionally, the amount of time it would take to clear those sites and get them ready versus other counties where they have cleared and ready sites. That saves them significant amounts of time moving in and having their product line up and running and out the door.”

The success of the general obligation bond proposals hinges on a crucial question: will the investment attract new industry? If so, the burden to tax papers to repay the bonds would be lessened or even entirely eliminated by companies paying taxes to or working out fee-in-lieu-of-taxes (FILOT) agreements with the county.

Jones’ alternatives include one which would include the creation of a spec building and one which would not.

“You just heard two alternate plans for economic development that allow us to substantially invest in our future in Kershaw County using our cash on hand. They require no tax increase and no borrowing of money. That means no bond issue,” Jones said. “I want to thank my colleagues again for slowing down the process of the general obligation bonds after first reading and allowing us to present these plans tonight. I am asking my colleagues to study tonight’s plan and be prepared to vote on the proposal at our next meeting. I didn’t want to slam anything down anybody’s throat. I want plenty of time for my colleagues to be able to look at it and members of the public to be able to look at it, as well.”

Carpenter also revisited the four proposals he presented Aug. 26. He said those plans would also use reserve funds the first few years before any tax millage increase would go into effect. He projected revenue from FILOT agreements to be approximately $350,000 a year, which would help offset any tax increase. Councilman Tom Gardner said while no one likes the idea of tax increases, the amount levied against each property owner would actually be manageable.

“The immediate millage impact of 1.3 mills on a $100,000 home is like $5.20, at 1.8 on a $100,000 home would be $7.20 a year -- so put it in dollars and cents, it’s not a significant impact,” Gardner said. “Plus, down the road if something comes out of this, then there’s going to be growth to offset some of that millage and may pay for it all together.”

In other business, council passed a resolution setting guidelines for portraits of long-serving councilmen to be hung in the council chamber. The resolution said an honoree must serve at least 20 years on council. Council also passed a resolution authorizing a FILOT agreement with Kershaw Hospital LLC and Kershaw Clinics LLC, related to Capella Healthcare and MUSC Health’s pending takeover of KershawHealth.

Council also held a public hearing and third and final reading of an ordinance approving a FILOT agreement with Haier America relating to the company’s recently announced $72 million expansion.

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