Contrary to what you may have heard, St. Johns Fire District commissioners are not all riding around in new Porsches.
And Beach Co. officials didn't sit in on their executive session last week. They may have wanted to, but they got kicked out.
But it's true that their proposal for a taxpayer-subsidized development is gaining steam.
So let the protests begin.
Charleston County Council will hear the formal presentation on a tax-increment financing district for the Beach Co. this month, with a vote likely following in May.
The question is, will it get any farther than that?
Apparently, the Beach Co. thinks so, or it wouldn't waste time with a small public service district board that has already said “no” once.
A deal for who?
Taxpayers, the Beach Co. wants your help to build a high-end development on Johns Island — 1,200 homes, a hotel, a golf course.
All you have to do is forgo $84 million in property taxes over the next 45 years, and the company promises a whole bunch of construction and service-industry jobs.
What a deal.
The county, the school board, the St. Johns Fire District and the Park and Recreation Commission have to sign off on this, since they would give up this future tax revenue.
The St. Johns Fire District Commission unanimously said “no” a year ago.
Wonder why? It would get a new fire truck out of the deal, but it would have to build a new station — and staff it — without additional tax revenue for nearly half a century.
Several commissioners say it still doesn't seem like a good deal, but since two new members wanted more information, they'll look at it.
“Nothing has really changed,” says commission Chairman Eric Britton. “But since this is coming up officially, it's better to be a little prepared.”
Trouble is, there are rumors that the commission may change its vote — something most members deny.
Privately, some of them say the Beach Co. hasn't been lobbying them, but it's pretty clear it would like the district to reconsider. You don't say.
It's also true that the Beach Co. is paying for the consultant the fire district is using.
This is the same consultant the county selected. The Beach Co. is paying that tab too, which is only fair, since it started all this.
Fire District commissioners say the consultant is neutral, but County Councilman Dickie Schweers has a point when he notes that those guys know who's paying the tab.
Right now, the fire district is feeling the heat, but ultimately it is just a small piece of a larger — and insidious — deal. The real players are on County Council and the school board.
In fact, the school district has the most at stake here — it would have to give up $63 million of the $84 million.
In other words, no point harping on the fire district.
If you really want to kill this horrible precedent-setting move, go to the school board.
That vote is the only one that's going to count.
Reach Brian Hicks at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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