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Letter: School Board not credible to merit $90M bond

April 25, 2018

You may have heard, that the Aiken County School Board will be asking you to vote on a $90 million bond levy on May 1.

Someone sent me a link to the Aiken School Board’s website wherein they purport to state “facts” about the bond issue. One of those “facts” is called “TIF Talk.” I could not believe the factual distortions on that page. I know a little about TIF’s and Project Jackson and baseball stadiums, because I have lived in the TIF area for the last 11 years, and I sued the City of North Augusta, all the way to the S.C. Supreme Court to try and stop this waste of taxpayer money.

So let’s do a little “TIF Talk”:

The School District claims they participated in the TIF with the City because the land was blighted and it would continue to net very little tax revenue.

History Lesson I: In 1996, the City designated those 457 acres a TIF district, claiming it was blighted. In 1997, the Aiken School District sued the City claiming the area “was not blighted,” that private development would occur without public assistance and that property values were increasing. In 2013, when the School District agreed to send their taxes to build a stadium, the assessed value of all the property in the TIF has increased 700 percent. The houses surrounding the stadium in the area have an average value of $400,000. Sound blighted to you?

History Lesson II: When the School District was deciding whether to send $13.3 million of their tax dollars to build a $43 million stadium, the City had already committed to another developer to start building in that area without the use of any school tax dollars. That development would have included 467 residential units, and 63,000 square feet of commercial space. We presented that information to the School Board in May 2013. We had to fight to get any time to present information to them. They couldn’t wait to get us off the podium. The City took 45 minutes to spin their “Field of Dreams.” After much debate the School Board reluctantly gave us 15 minutes.

History Lesson III: On June 10, 2013, the School District attorney sent an email to the North Augusta Administrator confirming the fact that if the School District did not agree to the TIF and the baseball stadium did not go forward, there would be development in that area anyway which would be tax beneficial to the School District.

History Lesson IV: In 2013, we surveyed all the 20-30 acre tracts of undeveloped land in Aiken County that were offered for sale. The average offering price was $5,000/acre. The 30 acre tract for Project Jackson had sold to the developer by the City for $17,800/acre. Sound blighted to you?

History Lesson V: In 2016 the Project Jackson 30 acre tract was sold by the old developer to the baseball stadium developer for $4,300,000. That’s $143,000/acre. Sound blighted to you?

As a first year law student would ask: Was the School Board lying in 1997 when it said it the area wasn’t blighted? Or is it lying now?

Finally: The School Board is entitled to its own opinion, but they are not entitled to their own facts.

They have no credibility with me. You’ll have to decide if they have the credibility to merit your vote on the $90 million bond referendum.

Steve Donohue

North Augusta

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