Teacher Village to cost $3.6M

WINNSBORO – A housing project proposed by the Fairfield County school district aims to keep teachers – along with their salaries – within Fairfield County.

But for the plan to move forward, school officials say the county must also pitch in with tax incentives.

Dubbed a “teacher village,” the approximately $3.6 million project is designed to build at least 30 homes off U.S. 321 Bypass, on 22 acres behind the district administration building.

The purpose is to attract and retain high quality teachers by providing housing that’s affordable and attractive, said Sue Rex, chairwoman of the Fairfield County Education Foundation.

“We have a major teacher shortage in our state, and especially in the rural districts,” Rex said during a presentation at the Sept. 19 school board meeting. “It’s far to drive to the school districts, and there are not a lot of affordable, attractive housing arrangements available.”

No votes were taken on the teacher village.

According to the plan, an investment company would front $3 million of the required revenue. The remaining $600,000 would come from seven-year tax abatements requested of the school district and county.

When asked why abating county taxes for a school district project is necessary, Superintendent Dr. J.R. Green noted the district doesn’t receive any tax revenues from fee in lieu of tax agreement the county creates to attract industry.

It’s only fair, he said, that the county contribute.

“The school district can’t do it all,” Green said. “It needs to be done in conjunction with the county.”

Green said he’s spoken to several council members individually, and that they’re supportive of the idea. He declined to name them.

In exchange for the investment firm providing capital, the school district would also deed the 22 acres to the developer. The land coupled with the tax abatements would be the school district’s only liabilities, Green said.

Thirty homes would be built on half of the parcel, with 30 to 40 additional homes possible on the other 11 acres.

If only half the property is developed, the undeveloped half would consist of nature trails and green space, Rex said.

Should the plan moves forward, teachers would be given first priority in the village, where rent would range from $600 to $900 a month.

District office staff would come next, followed potentially by Fairfield County first responders.

Homes would feature two, three and four bedrooms, and be between 1,200 and 1,700 square feet, Green said.

“We’re talking about granite countertops, we’re talking about wood floors,” he said. “We’re talking about very nice homes our staff would be very excited about living in. This takes it to another level.”

Board members, including Henry Miller, were generally in favor of the teacher village. Miller said Fairfield County’s population has been stagnant for years, but thinks the village could be a catalyst for growth.

“We have to step outside of the box. I ask, how can Lexington land all these different jobs? Its recruitment, it’s a competition,” Miller said. “Nobody is going to give you anything, you’ve got to go out and snatch it.”

Board Chairman William Frick said other school districts are pursuing teacher villages, though he said Fairfield’s is the most ambitious.

Frick noted that Dillon County is doing something similar with duplexes, while Allendale County is providing dorm spaces for teachers at USC Salkehatchie.

“I’m not talking about fancy dorm rooms at [the University of South] Carolina. I’m talking about teeny, little twin beds, and they’re charging those people $500 a month and they’re filled,” Frick said of the USC Salkehatchie rooms.

“Dillon County is investing in duplexes and they’re getting people there,” Frick continued. “I think it’s something a lot more school districts are going to get involved in.”

Not every board member was sold, however.

Board member Paula Hartman wanted to know what happens if homes aren’t built for educators as advertised.

Frick and Green said language could be written into the deed in which the property would revert to the district if homes weren’t built, though Green acknowledged that solution isn’t a certainty.

“That’s something that we would have to continue to negotiate,” Green said. “Once we transfer land, they understand what our motivations are, which are to provide housing for our staff members as well as first responders.”

Frick viewed the project as a traditional economic development deal.

“I think that’s how economic development works,” Frick said. “They draw up fee in lieu of [tax] agreements and tax abatements to draw people there. This is simply an economic development project, it appears, to me.”

Hartman raised additional concerns about setting a precedent for future developers. She also worried the tax abatement would negatively impact the district and county.

“There is a risk to the children because the money is not going to be there,” she said. “I don’t see how the school board can do that, or the county for that matter.”

Green said aside from the 22 acres, the district has virtually nothing to lose.

“Right now we aren’t collecting any taxes because there are no properties,” he said. “We are not foregoing anything that we are currently receiving.”

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