A tax incentive program to renovate vacant and abandoned buildings in historic Beaufort will have to go forward without the Beaufort County School District's participation.
At its meeting Tuesday night, the board of education decided not to participate in the program known as the Bailey Bill, which provides property owners with tax incentives to redevelop dilapidated buildings.
While the seven board members who opposed participating -- Paul Roth, JoAnn Orischak, Earl Campbell, Laura Bush, Evva Anderson, Michael Rivers and Jim Beckert -- said they would like to see the properties improved, they did not think the school district should be involved.
"Of all of the different entities that have approached us recently, this one is compelling because I love historic Beaufort," Orischak said during the meeting. "But my comment to this board is that ... we did not set restoration and economic development as a priority when we outlined our goals."
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Beaufort City Council and Beaufort County Council can still adopt the bill without the district's participation. The city wanted the district's support since the board is the largest taxing entity in the county, Beaufort city councilwoman Donnie Beer said.
Those who voted in favor of the program -- board chairman Bill Evans and members Mary Cordray and Geri Kinton -- said they thought the bill had the potential to grow the district's tax base because the renovated properties would become more valuable.
Several Beaufort groups, including the Historic Review Board, Historic Beaufort Foundation and the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce, also spoke in support of the bill and said it could help spark development across the city.
"If we don't let them try, I think it is unclear whether our funding from those properties could increase," Cordray said. "But I think it is pretty clear the funding from them will go down" as their conditions continue to worsen.
If the school board had chosen to participate, it would not have given up any tax revenue it currently receives from the dilapidated properties. However, the venture would have required the district to forgo any gains in property tax revenue for a decade.
In order to qualify for the incentive, an owner must agree to put at least 75 percent of the property's market value into renovations, according to Beaufort city planner Libby Anderson. The program will then freeze for 10 years the property's assessed value on which taxes are paid. That keeps the owner's tax bill from spiking as a result of that increased value.
The tax incentives provided through the bill are available for both residential and commercial properties. The program would give the city another tool to work with owners to rehabilitate the buildings and preserve their history, Anderson said.
District superintendent Jeff Moss cautioned the board against participation.
"The reason individuals continue to come before you is because you are the biggest player in the county," Moss said. "But I don't know that you would have anything to truly benefit or gain from by participating."
The board has already agreed this year to participate in the extension of a special Town of Hilton Head Island tax district.
It had also agreed to help finance the purchase of property at Buckwalter Place in Bluffton to further economic development. However, that commitment dissolved in July when Bluffton Town Council -- one of the partners in the deal -- decided to withdraw its support and funding.
Several school board members have said that dissolution calls into question whether public bodies should participate in economic development ventures.
Moss said he thought the other endeavors the board has previously committed to offered more direct gains than the Bailey Bill.
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- School district asked to help with program to rehabilitate historic Beaufort buildings, June 21, 2014
- Concerns over Buckwalter Place deal led to failed vote, July 16, 2014
- School district tosses its hat in economic-development ring with Buckwalter deal, April 18, 2014
- Faulty projections put Beaufort County schools in $4 million hole, April 5, 2014
- School board extends participation in special Hilton Head tax district, February 18, 2014