New scrutiny on York Co. Council for Knowledge Park deal

Rock Hill’s Knowledge Park project will have to wait at least another month and a half before a planned extension of the park’s special tax district can receive approval.

The York County Council this week named a new ad hoc committee that will examine the city’s request for an extension that would limit the county’s tax revenue from the downtown area for another 10 years. Newly elected council member Christi Cox will chair the committee, which will also include council members William “Bump” Roddey and Robert Winkler.

The committee will meet over the next six weeks, with plans to produce its results at the March 2 council meeting.

Cox, who has been critical of the proposed extension in the past, requested a chance to formally review the documentation on the proposal and it’s potential impact on the county’s finances. Winkler has said he’s undecided on whether the district should be renewed until 2039.

“This gives them, as the newer members on council, the chance to be reassured about the information we’ve received, and be on the front lines to get the information,” said Roddey.

The city would like to extend the special tax district around the former Rock Hill Printing & Finishing Co. site, also known as the Bleachery, past its current expiration date in 2029, saying more time and revenue will be needed to complete improvements to the area. The district is expected to boost business development and investment in the area, but it requires both the county and the school district to give up any additional tax revenue they would otherwise receive from rising property values for the life of the tax district.

Cox couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday but said at Monday’s council meeting her research on the topic prior to joining the council this month left her with questions about how giving up the additional tax revenue will impact county finances.

“I want to know, what is the financial impact on the county?” she said.

Roddey supports extending the tax district, but even his vote on the committee isn’t a sure thing. He said he wants to see the extension tied to Rock Hill addressing stormwater and street-flooding issues in his district.

“We know where the issues and the problems are. Now we just need the money,” Roddey said. And while the city has raised its stormwater fees to deal with the issue, Roddey said, “It’s not at the forefront.”

He said he would use his position on the committee as “leverage” to get stormwater problems addressed.

Winkler said he wants the committee to look at what was projected when the original tax district was set up in 2004, and where the project stands now in relation to those projections.

“I spoke with (Rock Hill Mayor) Doug Echols, and we should be able to get whatever we need from them within 48 hours,” he said.

York County Manager Bill Shanahan already has reviewed several documents from the city related to the tax district in order to give a formal presentation to the council. Shanahan said he plans to share that information with the new committee and believes that background work will help the committee wrap up its review by the beginning of March.

“This will put three new sets of eyes on it,” Shanahan said. “We’ve already got a lot of the information, so we can identify all the perceived issues and they can say, ‘This is good, this is not so good,’ then tell the rest of the council how they see it.”

Committee members on Monday didn’t schedule any meeting dates, but Roddey said he expects the group to get to work as early as Tuesday or Wednesday of next week, and said he’d also like Echols and Rock Hill City Manager David Vehaun to speak to the committee as well.

Despite his own reservations, Roddey said he hopes to see the tax district go forward. Under a proposed agreement between the city and county, after the current district holding property tax rates at an assessed 2004 level reaches its 2029 expiration date, York County will be able to collect revenue at a higher 2015 assessment rate for the final 10 years of the extension.

“That will make it easier for me to go forward, because we won’t be giving up that money anyway,” Roddey said.

The ad hoc committee members say they want to look at the issue in a deliberate and even-handed way.

“I think the committee will be fair,” Winkler said. “Voters should be sure we will all do what’s in the best interests of the county as a whole, not just our parts of the county. We’ll look at all the information and make up our minds then.”