by Sam Spence
Upcoming school board elections could have an impact on whether or not an $84 million tax exception will be made in the case of a Johns Island resort community seeking significant public funding to back needed improvements before breaking ground on a 2,000-acre development that includes 1,200 homes, a golf course, hotel, and more.
Since we reported last month that real estate development firm The Beach Company had applied to form the county's public service district (PSD) since 1972 to administer the operation of essential services for its proposed Johns Island subdivision Kiawah River Plantation, the district's application has since gone through the first stage of administrative approval. Along with the PSD, the company is also pursuing the establishment of a tax-increment finance (TIF) district, which would repurpose 45-years worth of property tax revenues toward the up-front development costs for Kiawah River Plantation, including $11 million in reimbursements to the PSD for development of sewer infrastructure.
As it stands right now, the terms of the TIF would pledge about $63 million in future tax revenues designated for local schools, which puts the Charleston County School District Board of Trustees in the driver seat for approval of much of the funding that the Beach Co. is seeking. The company has said that since just 10% of the neighborhood would be full-time residents, the number of students attending county schools who live in the subdivision would be minimal, and has offered to pay over the student expenses for those that do. Five positions on the nine-seat school board are up for grabs on Tuesday, so it's fair to say the election could determine how Kiawah River Plantation moves forward.
To find out where each candidate stood on the issue of the Kiawah River Plantation TIF, last week the Coastal Conservation League surveyed the 13 candidates running in West Ashley, Downtown, and North Charleston. While the response was far from unanimous, many of the candidates balked at the 45-year length of the agreement, and some stipulated that they would need to see the benefit to the school district for the plan to get their support. Read the full responses here, or see the replies from City Paper-endorsed candidates below.
John Barter (West Ashley):
A 45-year TIF is an absolute non-starter. As you would expect, that leads to the immediate follow-up question as to whether there is any TIF for this property that I would support. As a Board member, I need to be open-minded and go where the facts take me.
And so, I respond that there are two extremely high hurdles that any TIF would have to clear before I would consider it:
First, the development must be distinguishable from all other developments on Johns Island and throughout the region. Otherwise, the County and the School District will face a long line of developers, each seeking a TIF.
Second, and far more challenging, would be the need for the developer to demonstrate that the present value in today's dollars of the tax revenues to be received by the School District is significantly greater with a TIF than without. And I mean significantly greater. Since we would be postponing the receipt of tax revenues, there must be a demonstrable and large future benefit. Since the receipt of tax revenues with a TIF would be delayed by 25-45 years, satisfying this requirement would mean that the development of the property would have to proceed much more quickly, and the developed value would have to be much greater, with a TIF than without one. Since the property in question is extremely attractive and the developer believes that the market opportunity supports development, it is very hard for me to believe that he can demonstrate that taxpayers are better off with a TIF than without.
Louis Weinstein (Downtown):
45 yrs is too long. Could not vote for it if that is the term. Need to analyze the applicant's assumptions, but the proposal would have to be extremely beneficial to the CCSD for me to support this.
Tom Ducker (North Charleston):
I only know what I've read in the paper about this TIF and I've not been present during any CCSD discussions with the Beach Company. However, I'd be pleased to discuss the project with you, if I'm elected to the board and the TIF is placed on the CCSD agenda for consideration.
Mattese Lecque Miller (North Charleston):
I need to study the entire concept and then make a decision based on my fact finding, and with much discussion with others as to the added value or no benefit of the proposal. I am quite familiar with Tax Increment Financing and how politicians use these funds to attract developers who in turn will bring bigger revenue to certain areas, over a period of time. My neighborhood (Liberty Hill) is a perfect example as to how we have been used to obtain TIF money; and then in turn the money has not been used to improve infrastructure and other community needs. Currently, TIF money will be utilized to redevelop the Mixson Avenue area with homes and townhomes starting at $250,000, with no promise for set asides for the tax increase in property values as a result of the new development.
NOTE: Michael Miller (West Ashley) did not respond to the CCL's inquiry.