Rock Hill mayor implores school board to support tax district expansion

Mayor Doug Echols is imploring the Rock Hill school board to support the expansion of a special downtown tax district that is a vital part of the city’s “Knowledge Park” project.

Speaking before the school board at Monday night’s business meeting, Echols said, “I believe that the Knowledge Park project is certainly about our shared future. How we continue to partner with the school district and others for the good of all will give us a stronger future as we move forward.”

City officials have been negotiating with the school board since June. The city wants to expand the size of the tax district – which extends from downtown Rock Hill to Winthrop University – as well as the duration of the designation for another 10 years after it expires in 2029. The tax district was formed in 2004.

At a September business meeting, the school board announced changes in its position on the city’s plan. The changes included a request for two additional school resource officers and a promise that no increased tax revenue would pay for utility system improvements or a proposed street car project.

The city responded, granting some of the district’s requests, but not all.

The city agreed to withdraw a request to expand the size of the district from $40 million to $56 million, agreed the school district’s share of tax money cannot be used for debt service or utility system improvements and agreed the district’s share would not exceed $1.7 million per year. In return, the district would allow the special tax district to expand in size and in length from 2029 until 2039.

There was no mention of the district’s other requests, such as the two additional school resource officers, the street car project or the ability to shift some school facilities to better service rates, said board Chairman Jim Vining.

“I’m not aware the city has given any up-front financial incentives,” Vining said.

There also was no response to the “reporting issues,” he said. In its latest request to the city, the board had asked for regular updates on the tax district and Knowledge Park construction.

Echols spoke to the board about transparency and being willing to hand over any information whenever it was requested and said the city felt it had been doing that all along.

“I think we tried to be as responsive as we could to questions and concerns,” Echols said.

Echols acknowledged the school district faces financial challenges but assured the board that previous special tax districts have proven profitable for the school district and that the school district’s support of the tax district was essential to the future of Knowledge Park.

“Our hope is that you will move forward with your discussions tonight and move forward as you deem appropriate to accomplish this as soon as possible,” he said.

Other than asking a few brief questions, board members did not discuss the issue in open session but went into a closed session at the end of the meeting to discuss further negotiations.