HICKS COLUMN: To TIF or not to TIF
Charleston County Council has a big decision to make, and they may need your help to sort it all out.
The Beach Co. wants the county to set up an $84.5 million special tax district so they can develop the south end of Johns Island with 1,200 million-dollar homes, a hotel and golf course.
Sounds toney, huh?
Basically, the successful private developer would take a portion of the property taxes these homes generate to repay a loan for the infrastructure that makes the subdivision possible in the first place. The county would provide a sewer system at an optimistic cost of about $11 million.
The Legislature decided years ago that tax-increment financing districts — initially intended to redevelop blighted areas in cities — could also be used for rural development.
Which is awful big government of our conservative lawmakers. But since it’s legal, some council members say why should they oppose it?
Opponents note that the county could permit a hazardous waste dump there, too — doesn’t mean they should.
This is big. A single vote, likely coming in the next two months, is going to determine the fate of Johns Island’s soul.
The real cost?
Take away the arguments about corporate welfare, the government picking winners and losers, and even the development of Johns Island, and there is still a big issue here.
If the county says yes to this plan, every developer in Charleston will justifiably expect the same deal.
“It’s a terrible precedent,” says Councilman Dickie Schweers.
If the council says yes, the county becomes a partner in private developments. When that happens, we might as well pave the entire island — and the rest of the county — because that’s ultimately where this is headed.
And even with the added tax base, that might not be a great deal. Dana Beach of the Coastal Conservation League points out that when the county takes in property taxes from a development — and here the county would get only part of that — the money doesn’t cover the expenses of providing services to the area. Beach says it would fall on other county taxpayers to pick up the slack.
Sounds like welfare, huh?
Road to a new road?
The developers say that no TIF means no development — and no jobs.
But are the jobs that might be created, beyond the initial construction, the kind we need? Some council members wonder about that.
Officials say that this would lead to a greater tax base, and that counties must grow to survive. There is a lot of truth to that. That makes this tough for some folks.
But one thing’s for sure. If the county builds a sewer system on Johns Island, developments are going to sprout up like weeds, wanting to tie in. Pretty soon the traffic is going to be so bad there will be no question that we’ll need that new road — uh, greenway.
Some council members say there is no great opposition to such a road, or to developing the second-biggest island on the East Coast.
We’ll see when the council holds its public hearing for the Beach Co.’s TIF district.
Reach Brian Hicks at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @BriHicks_PandC.