Project Jackson: Final Pitch Before County Council, But Far From - WJBF-TV ABC 6 Augusta-Aiken

Project Jackson: Final Pitch Before County Council, But Far From Bottom of The 9th

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North Augusta, SC -

Tonight, Project Jackson is back up before the Aiken County Council for a third and final vote.

North Augusta is asking the county council to approve a Tax Increment Financing district (TIF), that is, to forego incremental taxes on the area for a set period of time.  The Aiken School Board has already approved a similar agreement.

While tonight North Augusta leaders are making their final pitch to Aiken County Council, there's a lot of time left in this ball game, and leaders say they're nowhere near the bottom of the 9th.

So, we wanted to dig into, if the vote does pass tonight what's the work ahead?

If Mayor Lark Jones were pitching a baseball instead of the idea of a development with a baseball stadium, he'd be in peak condition by this point.  He's seen a lot of innings, but says he's nowhere near the end of the game, much less the season.

"We're in the top or bottom of the third," Jones says.

County council members acknowledge their vote isn't the end of it.

"Ours is just a step, North Augusta still has a lot to do ahead, a lot of homework," Aiken County Councilman Andrew Siders says.

Homework like addressing issues raised by opponents of the project, such as traffic, lights, and layout.

"A lot of things that can happen even after the shovels hit the dirt," Siders says.

"If we get the votes, we'll start designing things, looking at location, traffic, environmental issues," Jones says.  "There's no sense in wasting time, effort, and money until we have the financial wherewithal."

And they still don't have that wherewithal yet; next up is a home game.

"The next step is to get a TIF ordinance approved in North Augusta," Jones explains.

That's right, they still have to get the TIF district approved by North Augusta council members. So, why start away with the county and the school board, instead of at home?

"If we didn't get both of them, we were dead in the water right there," Jones says.

Now, he says, he's getting more than he'd hoped for:  He says a developer is interested in throwing in his or her own $15 million investment on top of the project.  And he says that would be good news for all of Aiken County.

"That would satisfy the bonds and pay off quicker, it would put money back into the hands of the school and the county," Jones.

Money that won't exist, unless the project knocks it out of the park tonight.

But, to be clear, this project has faced some fierce opponents, first some property owners at the River Club, and now a group called "We the People Aiken." They say they believe this project is stealing, both tax dollars from Aiken County, and voters' rights to vote.

"If county council has authority to grant a referendum and people ask for one and they have chosen to not do it this time, we think the reason is it's probably going to fail," Debbie Nix explains.  "At second reading the vote was 6-3, so the odds are not good for us.  But, we may not get a vote this time, but we will get a vote when it's time for reelection."

County council members say they were elected by the people to make decisions for the people.

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