RICHLAND COUNTY, SC — At the request of Columbia, the Richland 1 school board Tuesday night took no action on proposed special tax districts to improve the North Main Street corridor and USCs Innovista campus, but some members expressed frustration with the sudden reversal of course by Mayor Steve Benjamin, who has yet to reveal alternative financing plans.
Ive got some concerns that we spent two years on this, said Vince Ford, who called for disclosure on the issue last week and forced the mayor to at least partially reveal his hand about the next step in the process.
Benjamin said he believes the tax-increment financing districts, known as TIFs, may not be needed now that the penny sales tax increase, endorsed by voters last month, will pay for some of the areas road improvements. The goal of such special purpose districts is to stimulate new private investment and increase real estate values.
The development plan that received initial City Council approval designated $40 million for North Main and $70 million for Innovista. The Richland 1 school board and Richland County Council must sign off on the plan because property taxes that would normally be used to fund schools and other services would be diverted into the TIFs. Both the school board and Richland County Council rejected a similar proposal in the midst of the recession four years ago.
Board member Jamie Devine said he is a little disappointed that the mayor stepped in to halt negotiations. Weve paid attorneys ... and now he comes in at the 11th hour and says we are stopping the process.
Devine is married to Columbia City Councilwoman Tameika Isaac Devine, the TIFs most vocal advocate. City Council members put off a decision Tuesday on the TIFs, a decision Tameika Devine approved, saying more time was needed to craft a satisfactory plan.
Board member Susie Dibble said she has fielded a number of calls about the TIF issue, with some suggesting that Jamie Devine should not vote on the issue if it does come before the board. Jamie Devine said he sees no conflict of interest.
Also at Tuesday nights meeting, the board voted on a new slate of officers for 2013. Jamie Devine was elected chairman of the board, receiving four votes to three for Dibble. Board member Aaron Bishop was elected vice chairman and one of the newest members of the board, Cheryl Harris, was elected secretary-treasurer, receiving four votes to two for member Barbara Scott.