Fairfield County Council Braces for Worst as Columbia Eyes Nuke Money

The two new nuclear reactors under construction at the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station in Jenkinsville stand to generate more than just electricity when the first of the pair goes online in 2017. Fairfield County Council and the Fairfield County School Board are both bristling with anticipation of the millions in tax revenues expected to flow into their coffers, but efforts are afoot – and have been, quietly, for some time – in the State Legislature to siphon off a considerable portion of that money.

Three legislators from Aiken County have crafted plans to extract 85 percent of property tax revenues generated by energy producing facilities, with the goal of redistributing that money, through Columbia, to counties across the state. District 25 Senator A. Shane Massey (R), who represents Edgefield, Aiken, McCormick and Saluda counties, introduced his bill (S 866) in May of 2009. Massey’s counterparts in the House, William “Bill” Clyburn (D) and William M. Hixon (R), pre-filed a similar bill in December 2010. Clyburn represents District 82 and Hixon District 83, both serving Aiken and Edgefield counties.

According to the bills, “the State Treasurer shall transfer the amount collected for school operating purposes to the Homestead Exemption Fund to be distributed in the manner provided by this fund and the State Treasurer shall transfer the amount collected for county and municipal operating purposes to the Local Government Fund to be distributed in the manner provided by this fund.”

The House version of the bill would prohibit “donor counties” (counties from which the funds are extracted) from being a recipient of the redistributed funds.

Both bills have reached the end of their two-year legislative cycle without having passed, meaning they would have to be re-filed and reintroduced from scratch in the next legislative session. In anticipation of this probability, County Council last week held a work session to formulate a game plan should either of those bills come to fruition, and Council Chairman David Ferguson said he is determined to fight any efforts to take money away from Fairfield County.

“We’ve got needs we’ve got to address in this county before we start talking about sending our money to other counties,” Ferguson said. “We’ve got a hospital that was built in the 1950s and a career center that was built 40 years ago. Once we get a hospital built and a career center built, we would like to reduce taxes for the people in this county.”

Ferguson said the County met with attorneys Aug. 21 to discuss a plan to combat the bills, which he said he was confident would be resurrected in the next legislative session.

“We’re not going to roll over and let them treat this county that way. Not as long as I am on Council,” Ferguson said. “The damage could be catastrophic.”

Ferguson said such a bill could stifle economic development efforts, not just in Fairfield County, but in all counties, as it would remove the incentive for counties to host similar facilities, as well as hinder the ability of counties to make deals, such as fee-in-lie-of-taxes agreements, with energy producing facilities.

Rep. Boyd Brown (D) has just wrapped up his last legislative session for District 41’s Fairfield and Chester counties, making way for the November race between Democrat MaryGail Douglas and Republican William Gray. Brown said he has been fighting the bills, and bills like them, for two terms, but during the next session it will be someone else’s plow to pull.

“I am a little concerned about what our next legislator might do,” Brown said. “I’ve been beating this thing back for four years, but it will come up again. There are significant plans afoot to take money out of Fairfield County.”

The bills only address energy producing facilities, leaving other big tax payers, like BMW and Boeing untouched, and Brown said legislators in counties that also have nuclear plants will most certainly line up to fight these attempts at raiding their county’s treasuries.

Douglas said that if she is elected, she will take up the fight where Brown left off.

“That money belongs to Fairfield County,” Douglas said. “The risk is all in Fairfield County.”

Gray agreed, and said if he were the next representative for Fairfield County he would oppose any such bill.

“We have our own problems here in Fairfield County,” Gray said. “I think you set a bad precedent when you start talking about taking money from one county to pay for the problems of other counties.”

Sen. Creighton Coleman, who is being opposed in November by Robert Carrison, questioned the constitutionality of singling out energy plants. He also said he was determined to defeat any efforts to take money out of Fairfield County.

“I’m not opposed to anything that would help our state,” Coleman said, “but not to the detriment of Fairfield County. It’s not going to happen on my watch.”

Carrison said he is fundamentally opposed to the idea of redistribution of wealth, and, like Gray, said such a bill would set a dangerous precedent.

“That facility lies in Fairfield County, and the risks also lie in Fairfield County,” Carrison said. “If you start down that path, should all counties get a redistribution of wealth from the widening of the Charleston harbor?”

Incumbents and challengers alike agree that the bills, or bills like them, are likely to resurface during the next legislative session and the defeat of these bills may be the only single issue on which they are united during this campaign season. And the County, meanwhile, is making preparations in the event the efforts of their legislative delegation are in vain.