Teacher village hits a snag

WINNSBORO – The proposed Teacher Village is still on summer break.

Fairfield County Council has already passed two readings to award tax breaks to Gorelick Brothers, a North Carolina hedge fund, to build the proposed subdivision catering to Fairfield County teachers.

But third reading remains on hold due to disagreements over inserting an indemnification clause, a sticking point with the county.

The county wants indemnification to protect taxpayers from potential litigation, but is encountering resistance from Gorelick Brothers and the Fairfield County School District, which is heavily marketing the Teacher Village.

The Teacher Village wasn’t on the agenda for Monday night’s meeting, but it was a hot topic.

 “In the end, after a year of effort, time and money, the other parties in this potential project have been unwilling to help the county mitigate and manage its associated risk,” Councilman Douglas Pauley said. “So don’t point the finger at the county.”

Councilman Clarence Gilbert also lamented the apparent lack of cooperation on the indemnification issue. He noted that something as simple as a construction worker accident could expose the county legally.

“It’s like a contractor telling me he’s going to build a $3,000 house and the only way he’s going to build that house is if I don’t take out insurance on that house,” Gilbert said.

“It really kind of concerns me that the developer doesn’t want to work with us,” Gilbert continued. “In the nine months that I’ve been here on council, not once have we met with Gorelick Brothers. We have some questions and concerns that we want to ask them, but from what I gather they refuse to talk with us.”

Clause is common

County Administrator Jason Taylor said indemnification clauses protecting the county are common to any contract the county enters into.

One time, when Providence Health and the county couldn’t agree on indemnification, Taylor said that as an alternative, Providence agreed to make annual payments into an escrow account. The account’s purpose is to cover county legal costs should litigation arise.

Taylor said the county proposed a similar workaround for the Teacher Village, but Gorelick and the school district declined to participate.

 “In using these tax incentives for residential [development], it’s a little bit of a stretch of the law,” Taylor said. “Maybe in the end it will be fine, and we hope it will be fine, but right now it’s an unsettled issue legally. So there’s a little bit more risk for the council in that respect.”

Developers have also asked for a seven-year tax abatement totaling about $600,000.

Earlier, during public participation, Lake Wateree resident Jeff Morris spoke supportively of past proposals to include an indemnity clause.

He also suggested if the Teacher Village doesn’t fill with teachers, tax abatements to Gorelick should prorate downward accordingly.

“By the time the abatement period runs out, they’ve got 22 acres, a bunch of homes they can do with whatever they want,” Morris added. “The county should be careful about this, thoughtful about it.”

The Teacher Village also drew two supporters to Monday’s meeting

Winnsboro resident Shirley Green, who has previously spoken in support of the Teacher Village, urged the county to not let litigation become a roadblock to economic development and teacher recruitment.

“Are we afraid to take a chance with someone else’s money? Are we afraid of failure or are we afraid of success?” Green asked. “Don’t let the fear of a lawsuit or failure as it’s known to hold you back from the opportunities for success.”

Chanda Jefferson, a Fairfield County teacher and the state’s teacher of the year, said the county lacks convenient housing for teachers.

“The time I commute can be time spent in the classroom,” she said.