The York County Council will not support extending a special tax district in Rock Hill. At least not yet. At least not officially.
Concerned about how much revenue the county would forgo to pay for the city’s Knowledge Park project, council members voted to object to a 10-year extension of a special tax district attached to the area. But after a specially called meeting Thursday, the council’s chairman said he still expects his colleagues to ultimately agree to the extension.
“The majority supports it, but this is more about transparency,” said Chairman Britt Blackwell. “This allows the ones who have questions the time they need to get answers, and then we can still proceed to support it.”
Thursday’s vote was mostly the result of timing. York County had to state a formal position on the extension before Rock Hill could hold a public hearing on the issue scheduled for Monday, and many council members were unwilling to agree to the proposal.
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Councilman Joe Cox of Sharon was among them.
“I’m still going to vote no, because they’re not going to have any benchmarks” on meeting the tax district’s goals over the extra 10 years, Cox said.
A special meeting was called after the council failed to approve an agreement letter to Rock Hill at a meeting just two days earlier. Several members also said at that meeting that they wanted more time and information before they took a vote, but county attorney Michael Kendree later advised that the county had to state a position one way or the other before the public hearing.
The tax increment financing district, or TIF, was originally approved in 2004 for a 25-year period. It doesn’t raise or lower property taxes in downtown Rock Hill, but it does allow the city to use any increase in tax revenue over that period for public improvements in an area focused on the Rock Hill Printing & Finishing Co. site – dubbed the Bleachery – in hopes of drawing new business and development into the West White Street area.
But before Rock Hill can extend the life of the Knowledge Park district, the city has to reach an agreement with the other two tax-collecting entities in the area – York County and the Rock Hill school district – to forgo any additional tax revenue for the term of the district, which under the extension proposal will last until 2039.
But both the county and school district have been reluctant to go along. On Aug. 25, the Rock Hill school board voted to reject a similar letter of agreement with the city. Schools are primarily funded by taxes on commercial property, and board members have asked for more information about the city’s revenue projections and its bonding plans.
York County Councilman William “Bump” Roddey, whose district includes the Knowledge Park area, said the members came to a unanimous agreement on the objection (with Michael Johnson absent because of business reasons) just to avoid consenting to an extension by default, which is legally how no response from the county would have been interpreted.
“We did what we had to do to protect the county’s interests,” Roddey said. “But I don’t see any adjustments being made (to the city’s proposal). This will serve the county just the same as the other (tax districts) have. I hope it gets unanimous support from the other council members.”
Reached after the meeting, Rock Hill City Manager David Vehaun said he doesn’t think the objections from the other two bodies will impede the project.
“With the school board, there’s a couple things they’ve asked us for, and our attorneys are working through the language with them now,” Vehaun said. “There’s nothing magic about the Sept. 8 date. That’s just when we have to have the reading (at the City Council meeting)... There really is no drop-dead date for everybody to agree to it.”
When he talks to his county counterparts, and in discussions between elected officials, Vehaun said everyone has expressed a “can do” attitude about the extension.
On the other had, Cox said he was concerned that the extension would also raise the maximum level of debt the city can take on in bonding the project from $40 million to $56 million.
“If they’re not able to meet their goals now, and they’re asking us for a bigger amount, who’s to say they won’t come back again and say they need another 10 years?” Cox asked.
He expects the issue to come back to the County Council again at its next meeting Sept. 15 – in fact, that was a condition of Thursday’s objection, Cox said – which won’t allow opponents time to review the city’s revenue projections and the school board’s objections.