Georgetown County offers tax cut to firm, clearing way for jobs

A company that could bring at least 500 jobs and an investment of at least $200 million is considering coming to Georgetown.

Georgetown County Council members on Tuesday agreed to award the lowest possible tax assessment it can provide for "Project Roma," which is not the name of the unidentified agricultural company, if it decides to set up shop in a Georgetown County industrial park.

The agreement would lower the tax assessment on the bulk of the manufacturing equipment for the company from 10.5 percent to 6 percent, as an incentive to help attract the company.

County Economic Development Director Wayne Gregory said the exact impact the company coming might have on the county's economy has not yet been worked out as negotiations are ongoing.

Gregory said the company is looking at several locations and has not decided to set up operations in Georgetown County, which means many details about the company have not been made public.

Gregory called the agreement a "formality in the negotiating process."

"It symbolizes an act of faith," he said.

But he said the county does not often do agreements like this, especially in the past few years.

According to council records, the last time the county reached a similar agreement it was with Renewed World Energies in April 2009. That agreement meant the company's assets would be assessed at 6 percent and their millage rate was locked for 20 years. The company still operates in Georgetown County.

"It shows that they're serious," Gregory said. "It's a very good sign."

He said in the next few months the company will make its decision.

If the current company decides to come to Georgetown County, the agreement will come back before the County Council.

And the county could use the economic pick-me-up. In January, Georgetown County's unemployment rate increased from 11.6 percent to 12.2 percent.

Before the council meeting where the agreement was approved, council members held their first workshop for the coming budget year.

The county faces a loss of more than $500,000 compared to the current year's budget, said County Administrator Sel Hemingway.

That loss comes from an estimated increase of $200,000 in fuel costs and $115,000 more in employee benefit costs and a loss of $220,000 from the state's local government fund, Hemingway said.

He also told council members that they still have to figure out a way to keep up with the costs of the landfill's expansion.

Councilman Bob Anderson suggested that if the county charged fees for its recreational facilities, money could be freed up.

"Focus on the people who are using the facilities rather than the general tax payers," he said. "We could break that money loose for other uses."

But other councilmembers were unsure of that solution, expressing concerns that if the fees were too much then people won't use the facilities.

"We don't want to get to the point that they are raised so high where the public can't afford to pay them," said Councilwoman Lillie Johnson. "We don't want to price it out of the publics use ... and then have to close places because they're not getting enough use."

Anderson suggested that staff present council with more information on that idea to see how or if it would work.

Council Chairman Johnny Moran also stressed that council be presented a budget with no tax increases or household fee increases, though household garbage fees were suggested by staff as a way to pay for the landfill's expansion.

"I would like to see balanced budget with those two items excluded," Morant said.

Council will consider first reading of its budget at its April 26 meeting.

It must receive final reading by June 30.

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