COLUMBIA, SC — A special tax district is no longer needed for improvements in the North Main Street area, now that county voters have approved the penny sales tax, Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin said Friday.
The district in the works for three years was conceived to improve the long-neglected area.
But Benjamin said needs can be paid for in other ways now that the penny-on-the-dollar sales tax increase will pay for some of the areas road improvements.
I believe weve come up with a new way to accomplish that without having to do one of the TIFs (tax-increment financing districts), at least, he said Friday.
Adoption of the sales tax by Richland County voters Nov. 6 forces a fresh look at how to finish the rest, Benjamin said.
He declined to discuss his ideas in detail, saying hell outline his package soon.
One key question is how the city will get Greenville developer Bob Hughes the sidewalks, sewer lines and roads he has asked for in the Bull Street neighborhood, which was tied to the North Main district.
Benjamin also is mum on whether his new approach will revamp financing for improvements proposed in the citys other planned TIF district, the Innovista district. Thats where USC is looking to expand its campus westward to the Congaree River and city officials want to build a large waterfront park.
The new sales tax is slated to provide $35.4 million for streetscaping in the North Main area and $50 million for extending Greene and Williams streets in Innovista.
The TIF plan that received initial City Council approval designates $40 million for North Main and $70 million for Innovista. The plan depends on Richland County Council and the Richland 1 school board deferring some new taxes in those areas so the money could be spent on improvements.
Since the pennys passage, City Council members have been quiet about the future of the TIFs.
Benjamin tipped his hand after Richland 1 School Board member Vince Ford called for disclosure.
We hear the mayor has another way of funding these projects, Ford said in a publicly released statement Friday.
The school board is near its final decision on whether go along with diverting most of the tax gains it would receive to the TIF improvements.
County Council members put off that decision Tuesday.
That delay came after City Councilwoman Tameika Isaac Devine, the sponsor of the original TIF plan, said more time is needed to come with a deal satisfactory to all sides.
Devine is waiting to learn what alternatives Benjamin will suggest, saying she is willing to listen.
While new ways to help the North Main area seem likely, those sources may not be sufficient for Bull Street and Innovista, she said.
I still believe some sort of TIF is necessary in the long run for those areas, Devine said.
Reshaping the package of improvements in both North Nain and the Innovista is necessary to eliminate duplication, some county leaders said.
Im a no vote on both TIFs until they can show me something smaller, county councilman Damon Jeter of Columbia said.
Earlier demands to shrink the areas led city leaders to downsize the plans considerably in August.
Those changes meant 75 percent instead of all of the increase in property taxes from the designated areas would pay for the improvements. The remainder would go to the city, county and schools for other uses that officials in each will decide.
It could take a few months possibly until spring to work on a settlement, Devine said.
Staff writer Dawn Hinshaw contributed to this story. Reach Flach at (803) 771-8483.