With up to $6 million in property taxes at stake, school board plans closed-door discussion
A tax agreement that would impact North Charleston’s redevelopment plans and Charleston County School District revenues will be on the table at a school board committee meeting Tuesday.
The outcome could determine whether the school district shifts up to $6 million in property tax money to North Charleston, over 15 years. And while the potential agreement involves two local governments determining the use of public tax dollars, the school board plans to hold some of the discussion behind closed doors.
The committee meeting agenda says the school board members will review North Charleston’s request and develop a potential response in an “executive session” which the public can not attend.
School Board vice chairman Tom Ducker said the committee is negotiating a contract, and can therefore meet in executive session.
“They have given us a proposal, we have countered, and tomorrow we will discuss it,” Ducker said Monday. “There’s probably some sense that board has to have the freedom to speak about the proposals and negotiate.”
North Charleston is preparing to extend a special tax district, and has asked the school district to participate. The city proposed that the school district give up 90 percent of its new tax revenues within a 693-acre swath of the city, until 2028, to help fund redevelopment efforts there.
The school district has not revealed its counter-offer.
The only other item on the school board committee’s agenda Tuesday is “discuss next steps” after returning to an open session.
“If you’re discussing sharing taxes with another entity, why in the world would you want to do that behind closed doors?” said attorney Jay Bender, who represents the South Carolina Press Association and has published two books about South Carolina media law.
Bender said the law does allow, but does not require, negotiations involving a contract to be discussed in executive session. He said reviewing and developing a response to a city’s request to share tax revenues does not amount to negotiating a contract.
“I can’t think of a reason that you would discuss the imposition of a tax, or the sharing of a tax, behind closed doors,” Bender said.
School Board Chair Cindy Bohn Coats is not a member of the committee that will meet Tuesday at 3:30 p.m., at 75 Calhoun St., but Coats said the committee is following the state’s open meeting laws.
“I’m comfortable that we are complying with the rules,” she said. “The only piece in executive session would be negotiating.”
The full school board is expected to vote on the tax question at a meeting Dec. 9.
At issue is the city’s plan to expand and prolong an existing a tax increment financing district. In a TIF district, new property taxes generated in a specified area are dedicated to public amenities in the same area, such as building sidewalks and beautifying streets.
For a city, a TIF district can be a way of getting revenue that would have gone to a county government or school district and channelling it to city initiatives. There are many TIF districts in Charleston County, and the theory is that they spur development which builds the tax base for the long term.
North Charleston’s existing TIF has not been generating enough money to pay the bills, so the city wants to extend the expiration date, from 2018 to 2028, and increase its 629-acre size by another 64 acres.
The area includes several large development plans, including The Beach Company’s GARCO mill project and the former Naval Hospital, which is under contract to a developer.
North Charleston Director of Administration and Finance Warren Newton said the TIF could over 15 years generate between $9 million and $13 million in new property tax.
“The school district’s portion of the TIF revenues could range anywhere from $4,200,000 to $6,000,000 of that total,” Newton said in an email.
Charleston County already agreed to participate, shifting an estimated $1.8 million to $2.6 million to the TIF. The rest of the tax money comes from North Charleston’s share.
Reach David Slade at 937-5552