Mt. Zion/Admin forum set for tomorrow night

WINNSBORO – “Council will be bringing good news to the public forum Thursday evening [Sept. 20],” Council Chairman Billy Smith reported to The Voice earlier this week, regarding the proposal to repurpose Mt. Zion for new county offices.

“An important part of making this project affordable for the county is for the developer to be able to receive about $5.4 million in tax credits,” Smith said. “To get a majority of those credits, the property must be listed in the National Register of Historic Places.”

To that end, Smith said that on Sept. 12, the county received word from the United States Department of the Interior, which certifies properties for listing status in the National Register of Historic Places, that the Mt. Zion property ‘will likely be listed in the National Register if nominated by the State Historic Preservation Office.’

“And we have also received notification from the SC Historic Preservation Office stating that, ‘The property appears to meet national Register Criteria for Evaluation and will be nominated,’” Smith said.

“This is a big step towards being granted these historical preservation tax credits,” Smith said. “It’s great news for the taxpayers of Fairfield County.”

The two-part tax credit proposal consists of a New Market tax credit of $2.2 million and a historical tax credit of $3.2 million. The state and federal tax credits may also include abandoned building tax credits, according to Rory Dowling of 1st and Main, the North Carolina firm working with the county to renovate the building.

The developer owns the building and will bear the costs of the renovation. To help finance the project, the developer will sell the tax credits to a third party at a discount.

Smith has said the project will cost about $11.4 million total and will be paid for by 1st and Main from several sources – the $5.4 million in tax credits, $1.1 million in equity, and (after the property is developed) the county will buy the building via interest free annual lease payments of approximately $4.9 million over seven years. At the end of those seven years, the county will make a final payment to purchase and take ownership of the property from 1st and Main.

“Getting the tax credits is what makes this project possible,” Smith said.

While project naysayers have criticized the county for not renovating the current administration building or building a new one, Smith said to do either is cost prohibitive.

“[Mt. Zion] is the only thing we can do and afford to do,” Smith said. “It’s not the ideal situation, but when you’re $40 million plus in debt and unable to borrow any more, you have to dig out.”

Smith blamed Fairfield County’s financial predicament on past council members who, he said, borrowed $24 million in 2013, banking on revenues from the failed VC Summer nuclear plant to repay the bond –   revenues that never materialized.

“Replacement of just the electrical, HVAC and roof of the current county building would cost over $4 million,” Taylor said. “To renovate and expand that building would cost much more than it would cost to repurpose Mt. Zion, which will offer so much more space.”

“Even if we had the up-front money to renovate the current county building, there would be additional costs to find offices for employees while the renovations were being done,” Smith said. “Building out a temporary location would cost just as much, if not more. In 2015 it was estimated that housing the Courthouse temporarily in the HON building during renovations would cost $3.6 million. That would bring the cost of renovating the current building to right under $7 million and would not include any expansion to meet even our current needs. Those costs would be even higher if quoted today. That would not make sense financially.”

County leaders say the 45,000 square foot Mt. Zion Institute would more than double the existing 21,000-square-foot building to include not only council chambers and county offices, but possibly the recreation, sheriff’s and other departments as well. There would also be space to house the Courthouse offices while renovating the current Courthouse.

The proposed renovation of Mt. Zion would feature more parking, increased police presence and could lead to the county’s 120 employees shopping and eating in downtown Winnsboro, spending more money downtown, Smith said.

Council could take a third and final vote on the project as early as Sept. 24.

Council will hold a public forum on the proposed project Sept. 20 to answer questions that have been submitted by the public and to review and explain the financial and construction details of the project.

Smith said the public will have a chance to talk informally with the developer and council members prior to the developer’s presentation and council’s discussion of citizen’s submitted questions.

If you are going to the public forum, here are the details: Thursday, Sept. 20, 6 p.m. at the Midlands Technical College campus, 1674 U.S. Highway 321 N in Winnsboro.

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