Council discusses incentive committee

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Group would review potential economic development projects

By Chris Sardelli

Economic incentives are often a driving force in attracting prospective companies to Lancaster County, but should there be greater oversight over these decisions?
Lancaster County Council discussed that topic at its Nov. 12 meeting, following a proposal from Council Chairwoman Kathy Sistare for creating an economic incentive review committee.
Her idea is to establish the committee to consider incentives prior to offering them to clients who are interested in setting up shop in the county.
County Administrator Steve Willis told council members the committee would vet a project’s potential benefits to the county and then match incentives to those benefits.
“The committee would do a review, look at the project size, look at the number of jobs coming,” Willis said.
Due to state laws and non-disclosure agreements, Willis said very little information about projects discussed by the committee would be made public, other than prospective jobs and expected investment. Though if the committee was eventually created, Willis does anticipate most of its’ meetings would still be open to the public, as would votes on incentive decisions.
Potential variables that could be considered by the committee include assessment ratios, fee-in-lieu-of-tax agreements and amount of special source revenue credits, Willis said.
With his term on council about to end, Councilman Cotton Cole recommended leaving the decision on creating the committee to the next council.
“I think this is all good and great, but seeing as how we will have a lot of changes on Jan. 1, I think it’s a good idea to put this off until the new council comes in,” Cole said.
Council chairwoman Kathy Sistare said the idea was strictly for discussion purposes and council would not vote on the issue that night.
“We’re not going to be assigning the membership tonight, but just talk about it because it could be a benefit to Mr. (Keith) Tunnell,” said Sistare of the president of the Lancaster County Economic Development Corp.
Councilman Jack Estridge chimed in to say he is in support of any effort that will translate to more jobs for county workers. Commenting on a recent announcement that Indian Land-based Internet marketing firm Red Ventures will soon hire 200 new employees, Estridge said council needs to focus on workforce training.
“If they’re hiring 200 people in the next year, our job is to get people trained for those jobs,” Estridge said.
Sistare agreed on the need for bringing new companies to the county.
“You have to look at your workforce. That’s one of the reasons economic incentives are so important,” Sistare said. “This is just for consideration.”
Council did not vote on the proposal and there are no definite plans for the proposal to return to council’s agenda.
Also at the meeting, council unanimously approved, by a vote of 6-0:
• A plan for allocating $34,818.80 in funds recently awarded to the county from a settled civil suit between the state of South Carolina and LendingTree, LLC, a mortgage broker operating in the state. Willis and County Finance Director Veronica Thompson will use the funds to tighten security for county computers, including upgrading firewalls and encryption.
• An ordinance to authorize a fee-in-lieu-of-ad valorem-tax agreement between the county and Surefin, LLC. The industrial heating and air-conditioning coil manufacturer, wants to build a new $2.9 million facility off Rock Hill Highway (S.C. 5) near the Catawba River. As part of the agreement, Surefin also pledges to add 21 new jobs to its current staff of 17 employees. The deal would freeze the company’s tax rate at its current rate. It would also provide additional tax savings for the company with a 95 percent special source revenue credit on its tax bill at that rate for the first year and a 50 percent credit for the next four years. Council also held a public hearing on the ordinance, though no residents spoke on the topic.
• Final reading of an ordinance to add a section to the county’s unified development ordinance about the replacement of digital billboards. This ordinance also states the guidelines for displaying public safety and community messages on such billboards.

Contact reporter Chris Sardelli   at (803) 416-8416