Rock Hill City Council reviews details of Knowledge Park deal for first time

Little remains of the Rock Hill Printing & Finishing Co. in downtown Rock Hill. The power plant building, center, will not be torn down. Winthrop University's Tillman Hall can be seen in the background in this 2011 file photo.
Little remains of the Rock Hill Printing & Finishing Co. in downtown Rock Hill. The power plant building, center, will not be torn down. Winthrop University's Tillman Hall can be seen in the background in this 2011 file photo. aburriss@heraldonline.com

The public on Tuesday got its first look at some of the details behind the still-pending agreement between Rock Hill and York County on the future of Knowledge Park.

The Rock Hill City Council reviewed some of the fine points of the agreement in open session during its biweekly meeting Tuesday.

The county and the city have been in negotiations on extending Knowledge Park’s special tax district since the York County Council voted to reject an earlier proposed agreement to extend the district for another 10 years.

City Manager David Vehaun said the city is ready to accept most of the county’s conditions; that the city not spend any of the county’s money on a proposed streetcar or city employees’ salaries, that the funds not be used on utility infrastructure or upgrades, and that the level of public ownership within Knowledge Park – whether it’s property owned by the city or Winthrop University – be fixed at the current rate.

“The ownership requirement we found perplexing, because we want as little public ownership as possible to increase the taxable value of the district,” said city attorney Paul Dillingham in presenting the county’s requests to the city.

Vehaun said the utility restriction is similar to a request made by the Rock Hill school board and won’t affect the city’s ability to complete planned improvements to the district.

Rock Hill also is prepared to meet the county’s request for detailed annual reports on Knowledge Park’s progress, spelling out how much money has been spent and on what it’s been spent. The city would be required to submit the details to the county council by May 1 of each year in order to receive the county’s portion of the district’s funding.

County council members have said previously they want the city to meet regular deadlines in providing them with the information, or else the county will withdraw its consent for the tax district extension at any time.

On other areas, the county and city do still have some disagreements. The county asked for the amount of taxes it collects from the district, currently set at 2004 levels, to be increased to the current 2015 valuation during the additional 10 years of the agreement, beginning in 2029. They also asked for the city to limit York County’s “exposure” by capping the annual revenue from county sources at $490,000.

Rock Hill has asked the county to choose one or the other. “The financial models for both just wouldn’t work,” said Vehaun.

For similar reasons, if the county insists on one of the other options for increasing its returns from the Knowledge Park district, the city would not agree to a proposal to give the county a 20 percent “remittance” on the sale of any publically owned property in the district, Vehaun said.

The city manager said he informed County Manager Bill Shanahan and York County Council Chairman Britt Blackwell of the city’s plans to discuss the details ahead of Tuesday’s meeting, saying the city wanted to get the details of the agreement out to the public ahead of a June 1 public hearing by the County Council.

“Our main intent tonight was just to get the information out there,” Vehaun said. The City Council took no action after the presentation.

Before negotiations had even finished between the city and county managers and their respective attorneys, the County Council voted to approve the agreement in two early procedural votes and held a public hearing on the issue May 4, attracting some comments that county residents couldn’t say anything about an agreement that hadn’t been made public yet.

The County Council reviewed a final version of the Knowledge Park agreement at its May 18 meeting in a closed executive session, but didn’t have any public discussion of the details. The county plans to hold another public hearing on the issue June 1 before holding a final vote on the matter.

The City Council approved first reading of an agreement as far back as September, but has put off holding a final vote on the park until the county agreed to participate. The city reached a separate agreement with the school district to extend the tax district at the end of last year.

All three taxing entities in the county must agree to forgo property tax revenue from the Knowledge Park area in downtown Rock Hill so the city can use the funds for ongoing improvements to future commercial and residential development.

Bristow Marchant •  803-329-4062