The tax increment financing district proposed for a resort development on the Kiawah River already has become a major source of public controversy, and with good reason. It would allow the Beach Company, the area’s best-known developer, to divert tax dollars to fund infrastructure normally paid for by the developer.
So the public should have plenty of opportunity to hear all about the TIF proposal, and to speak out on it — before Charleston County Council decides whether to proceed with the idea.
The current schedule for consideration, however, doesn’t provide for a public hearing until after council receives its consultant’s report and after they take a vote.
There are subsequent public hearings required by state law, but council members should be willing to hear from their constituents beforehand.
So should the Charleston County School Board and the rest of the public agencies that would be affected by County Council’s decision to proceed with the TIF.
In the meantime, council and the school board should eschew further closed door meetings on the matter.
Considering that this TIF would break new ground — typically TIFs have been used to encourage the redevelopment of blighted urban property — elected officials should make every effort to keep members of the public informed, and to hear their views.
Under the projected schedule, however, County Council is expected to hear from the Beach Company and a consultant on April 25, vote on whether to proceed in a committee-of-the-whole on May 2, and then as a full council on May 7.
Council should have the benefit of public input before making that potentially momentous decision.
The stakes are significant. Under the TIF, local jurisdictions would forego $84.5 million in tax money to assist the upscale project.
Most of those tax dollars — 63 million of them — would otherwise go to public schools. Under the original plan, the school district would get a pittance for its support of the TIF — mainly playground equipment worth $350,000.
The TIF would provide for sewage treatment that could be an incentive for further development in an area of Johns Island that is primarily rural. And it would serve as a precedent for other developers who want a similar deal for developments in other rural portions of Charleston County.
It’s hard to imagine that the well-heeled Beach Company can’t go it alone on Kiawah River Plantation.
Members of the public should have all the answers, and be able to give council the benefit of their consideration, before council takes the next big step.
After all, it’s their tax money at stake.