Lexington County school aid plan may change

How should industrial fees be shared? Officials are rethinking allocation plan

tflach@thestate.comJanuary 14, 2013 

— Lexington County leaders are taking a new look at how to share some industrial fees with schools.

The interest among County Council members in altering the allocation comes as the first payout nears.

Classrooms will see $600,000 initially in extra aid from the Amazon distribution center near Cayce, preliminary estimates say. That amount is likely to grow to nearly $2 million in a few years and increase as more companies begin operation.

The fees are paid by firms given property tax breaks to locate in industrial parks built with countywide footing the bill. There are two parks — one in Batesburg-Leesville as well as the one near Cayce — plus one slated to open in Chapin.

Changes under consideration are “more of a clarification” than significant revision of a 2007 plan dividing the bulk of fee revenue among schools, councilman Jim Kinard of Swansea said.

County leaders are having second thought about one aspect of the original allocation plan — population in each of the five school districts.

Under that plan, fees would be distributed to each based on a combination of population and enrollment instead of going solely to the district where an industry is located.

But concern is spreading that reliance on population, which is determined in censuses taken every 10 years, is outdated, as steady growth brings in thousands of newcomers annually, county planning director Charlie Compton said.

The heaviest growth is in the center of the county, home to most Lexington 1 schools.

No one is sure what factor could be substituted, although some county leaders suggest property tax valuation per student may work better.

“I can’t tell you what it’s going to look like,” councilman Todd Cullum of Cayce said. “It’s a quest to assure parity.”

So far, council members intend to keep partial allocation of the fees tied to enrollment.

That feature most benefits Lexington 1 in the center of the county and Lexington-Richland 5 on its north edge. About three-fourths of 53,000 elementary and high school students in the county are in the two districts.

About 10 percent of students attend classes in Lexington 3 on the west edge of the county and Lexington 4 in its southern tier. The remainder are in Lexington 2 in the Cayce-West Columbia area.

Trying to settle on the best way to help schools “is a good problem to have,” said Kinard, a former member of the Lexington 4 school board.

He also wants to set aside a slice of the fees to pay for future economic development, saying that will reduce the need for higher taxes to open new sites designed to lure manufacturers.

Reach Flach at (803) 771-8483.

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