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Even with York County approval, Knowledge Park deal incomplete

Rock Hill has plans to convert the former site of the Bleachery into Knowledge Park. Winthrop University’s Tillman Hall can be seen in the background.
Rock Hill has plans to convert the former site of the Bleachery into Knowledge Park. Winthrop University’s Tillman Hall can be seen in the background. aburriss@heraldonline.com

Even as Knowledge Park received a positive vote Monday night from the York County Council, questions remain about the future of the agreement.

The council gave its initial approval to a still-incomplete agreement on Monday, voting 6-1 to extend the life of the special tax district by another 10 years. But the proposal passed by “title-only,” meaning no details of the final agreement have been set.

York County and the city of Rock Hill are still negotiating terms the county will accept to give final approval to the deal. The county council spent most of its meeting Monday night prior to the vote in executive session discussing undisclosed details of the negotiations.

Council Chairman Britt Blackwell said one item the council is determined to see added to any agreement is a requirement that Rock Hill submit an annual report on the tax district’s financing and expenses. If the city fails to submit the report on time, he said, it would mean the end of the county’s tax contributions to Knowledge Park after the end of the current agreement in 2029.

“There has to be proper follow-up reporting, and, if not, we will unilaterally terminate the agreement for future years,” Blackwell said, “The city has to agree to that.”

Blackwell says Rock Hill hasn’t provided the county with that level of information to date, but admits York County didn’t ask for similar updates when it agreed to create the special tax district to fund infrastructure improvements in Knowledge Park in 2004.

City Manager David Vehaun has been negotiating with York County Manager Bill Shanahan since the county council rejected the city’s initial proposal for a 10-year extension two weeks ago. Vehaun said he’s only discussed “general requests” for information with the county, but doesn’t believe a deadline for an annual report would be a problem. The city already tracks bond spending on projects on the site of the former Rock Hill Printing & Finishing Co. plant already, he said, along with revenue and expenditure for the tax district. It’s just a matter of compiling the information into a format York County will accept.

“Obviously, we’re very pleased with how the vote turned out,” Vehaun said. “It’s critical to us to see this process through, and we’ve pledged to get the county the information they need.”

But not all concerns of the county council have yet been met. Councilwoman Christi Cox cast the lone vote against the agreement, saying the council hasn’t been provided with enough information to hold any vote yet. She said she would need to see Rock Hill’s master development agreement for Knowledge Park before she can cast a final vote on the issue – a document city officials have said won’t be complete until they are sure the project will move forward after a county vote.

“My job is to be accountable to them for every vote and to ensure government business is conducted in the most transparent way possible,” Cox said in an email to the Herald. “In my view, we did not do the public any justice with last night’s vote.”

Referencing one proposed addition to Knowledge Park, she added, “I want to represent my constituents who are overwhelmingly opposed to tax money being used for a streetcar.”

At Monday night’s meeting, Cox pointed out that Rock Hill has the authority to move forward with the project for an additional 10 years without the county agreeing to forgo any additional money. Instead, the city could fund any remaining improvements in those years using funds that would have gone into city funds or to the Rock Hill school district, which has already agreed to the extension.

In the 2013-14 fiscal year, the school district’s tax revenue in the Knowledge Park district totaled $272,727, compared to $91,730 for the city and $78,741 for York County, according to numbers provided by the city’s finance office.

Vehaun agreed that, legally, Rock Hill could move forward without the county’s participation, but said all three taxing entities – city, county and schools – would need to agree to fund the extension in order for Knowledge Park to reach its full potential.

“We always could do that, but what we’ve said is that the county would need to take part in order to make this a better product,” Vehaun said. “In general, it would just not be to the same level of quality.”

Bristow Marchant •  803-329-4062

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