Update from county administrator
by Margaret Brackett Contributing Columnist
This is the second half of Margaret Brackett’s interview with County Administrator Wayne Adams.
Margaret: When competing to lure industry to Newberry County, Council often uses tax incentives known as Fees in Lieu of Taxes and Special Source Revenue Credits. Will you explain these devices and how Council uses them?
Wayne: A fee in lieu of taxes reduces the assessment ratio on taxable investment made by industry. The assessment ratio is best thought of as that portion of an investment that is taxable, i.e., the portion to which the millage levy is applied. The minimum investment level required to qualify for a fee in lieu of taxes is $2.5 million. The typical fee in lieu of taxes reduces the assessment ratio from 10.5 percent to 6 percent, though extremely large investments can qualify for a 4 percent fee.
A special source revenue credit is a further reduction in tax liability – one that reduces payments from the fee stream (which results from the fee in lieu of taxes agreement) by a percentage or a set dollar amount. The special source revenue credit must be used to assist the company in paying for land- and building-related expenses.
Both the fee in lieu of taxes and the special source revenue credit are used to encourage investment that is broadly beneficial to the public, either because it creates jobs or because it is a help to our citizens in bearing the cost of basic services – ideally both. These devices also help Newberry County compete with larger counties that may have a tax base advantage, in that they can offer lower tax rates.
Margaret: On Sept. 5, the County Auditor presented to Council the levies for the property tax bills that will be mailed this fall. What can property owners expect when they receive their tax bills?
Wayne: There will be a two-mill increase in the levies under Council’s authority this fall. This will represent an increase in taxation of about 1 percent on owner-occupied homes, with nearly all of the increase going to pay for emergency-response vehicles and funding for the Newberry County Library and Piedmont Technical College. The amount of this increase on a $100,000 owner-occupied home will be about $8, but only $4 for primary residences of that same value occupied by senior citizens and disabled persons. This is the first time Council has increased property taxes at all in several years.
Margaret: Construction work on both the new animal shelter and the new public works building has been completed. When will those facilities become the new homes of their respective departments?
Wayne: During September, we are scheduled for final building code inspections on both facilities. There are some final touches still to be made. For instance, we are in the process of applying a sealer coat to the kennel surfaces at the animal shelter, and we are also finalizing the alarm connections so that, particularly in the case of the animal shelter, any fire alarm will be routed to the emergency 911-dispatch center outside normal hours of operation. We hope to begin moving the animals into their new home in the next 10 days to two weeks. Moving staff into the public works building will probably take a little longer, simply because the department is busy with a number of projects.
Margaret: How quickly is work progressing on the old armory (the former Piedmont Tech campus), which will be the new home for the Sheriff’s Department?
Wayne: The portion of the project that will be housed in the old armory building is on schedule for completion at the end of this calendar year. The portion that involves new construction – the new emergency operations center – is about two weeks behind, due mostly to the rain we had this summer. In any case, the Sheriff’s Department will be enjoying its new home early in 2014 – and for a long time to come. This building should accommodate the department’s space needs through 2025.
Margaret: At a work session on Sept. 9, Council developed a long list of repairs that will be made to the Newberry County Courthouse. It appears that this work will stretch well into the future.
Wayne: The primary work, which has been ongoing for some time, is the replacement of the courthouse roof. We expect that work to be finished by early October. The rain and the court schedule have slowed things down a bit, but the new roof will soon be completed.
The next phase will involve an estimated $150,000 of interior repairs. The scope of that work is being developed now, and Council will consider a budget amendment to cover these costs at Wednesday’s Council meeting. The timing for completion of this phase is late 2013 to early 2014.
The next two phases pertain to the basement area. The basement presents Council with two concerns. The primary concern is with stopping water intrusion into the basement, and two possible solutions are currently under consideration. The secondary concern, at least for now, is whether the basement can ultimately be suitable for occupancy, rather than just for storage. A reasonable time frame for employing a water intrusion solution is next spring. Plans for occupancy of the basement by court staff would of course stretch farther into the future.
The first two phases of the work – roof replacement and interior repairs – are by far the more urgent phases, since completing these will restore normal court operations.
Margaret: What is the likely future of the courthouse in downtown Newberry, given that space needs for the court system will surely increase over time?
Wayne: This will depend partly on the Clerk of Court and her assessment of the Court’s needs for space. Recently, she has also raised concerns about environmental factors, such as mold. As already discussed, Council is working with the Clerk of Court to address water intrusion issues and dampness. Of course, the Newberry County Courthouse has served our county’s judicial needs for quite a long time, and there is certainly much serviceable life left in it. The presence of the courthouse is also vital to Newberry’s downtown economy.
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