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Trustees to vote on opting out of TIF district

Posted: September 29, 2011 3:48 p.m.
Updated: September 30, 2011 5:00 a.m.

The Kershaw County School District (KCSD) may send a letter to the city of Camden opting out of the city’s plan to create a tax increment financing (TIF) district.

The Kershaw County Board of School Trustees will vote at its next meeting on a recommendation to forgo inclusion in the TIF district proposal from KCSD Chief Financial Officer Donnie Wilson. Wilson made the recommendation during a KCSD facilities and finance meeting Tuesday afternoon.

Wilson said if the school district does not opt out of the plan before Oct. 11, the city will assume the district has automatically consented to be included in the redevelopment plan.

“We’re keeping the door open for possibly deciding to opt in at a future date, once more is known about the total scope of the projects and whether or not it’s beneficial to the school district,” he said. “So we’re not closing the door forever by sending this letter, but we are certainly recommending that we opt out of this plan initially.”

According to the proposed redevelopment plan, the city of Camden will issue bonds to pay for $21 million worth of public and utility improvements to a 126-acre “blighted” area comprising the proposed TIF district. The old Continuous Learning Center and Jackson School buildings, as well as the tennis courts on York Street, are located within the proposed district.

Additionally, taxes currently received by the school district, county and city on all properties within the TIF district would be frozen at the current level for all government entities until the debt for the redevelopment is paid off -- even if hoped-for future private investment and increases in assessed values occur.

“No matter what happens to the property values in that zone, the Kershaw County School District will receive no increases in taxes until that debt is completely paid off,” Wilson said, pointing out the letter said the payback term will not exceed 25 years. “So potentially, you could go 25 years without any additional tax dollars off of any of those properties. It could quadruple in value as a result of their work, but any incremental increase either in millage rates or values -- all the money that is collected above where we are today -- would go back to the city to pay the debt.”

Trustee Don Copley said later that if property values were to quadruple, then it most likely would take fewer than 25 years for the city to repay its debt.

KCSD Superintendent Dr. Frank Morgan said he doesn’t want the recommendation to be misconstrued as being hostile or oppositional in any way. However, based on what they currently know, Morgan said, participating in the TIF district doesn’t appear to be very beneficial to the district right now.

Morgan also said the district may reconsider its decision in the future if it finds there will be some benefit to the school district.

“We’re just not ready to buy a ticket for a train when we don’t know where it’s going,” KCSD Director of Operations Billy Smith said.

Trustee Mara Jones said that while she supports improvements, she was disappointed with the limited amount of knowledge that came with the city of Camden’s letter to trustees.

“Our school district had to go in search of the repercussions of opting in or opting out, and it would have been beneficial for the city to propose this to us versus our administration having to do all the leg work on it,” Jones said, adding that she would like to have more face-to-face dialogue with city officials. “And that is not the appropriate way to do business. I hope the city increases and it benefits the entire county, but when we take away those tax dollars, it takes it away from every student in the entire county. Not just one population, it takes it away from every single student.”

Although Morgan said he and Wilson had an hour-long conversation with Camden City Manager Kevin Bronson, Trustee Kim DuRant said that it would have been nice if a city official sat down with the whole board.

“I have to think that this plan was conceived far sooner than those requests,” Copley added. “We ought to let them know that if we are trying to cooperate, which we need to do in today’s economic times, let’s find out what they’re thinking ahead of time … it would be nice if they would let us know what they are thinking so we could have time to think about it.”

Thursday morning, Bronson said that after meeting with Morgan, he didn’t pick up any cues suggesting the school board would also like to meet with him.

Bronson said he is always happy to talk with anyone about the TIF redevelopment plan and that he would have met with trustees if he knew that’s what they wanted.

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