City invests $900K in biz park

The city of Lancaster is putting forth significant money to help develop a business park near Lancaster County Airport on S.C. 9.

Lancaster City Council voted 6-1 at its Tuesday, Oct. 23, meeting to allocate $900,000 to extend city water and sewer services to the Lancaster Air-Rail Industrial Park, a project that’s being jointly planned by Lancaster City Council and Lancaster County Council.

City Councilwoman Linda Blackmon-Brace voted against Tuesday’s measure.

In 2010, County Council approved a $3.5 million bond to get the project under way. A portion of that money will allow the county to buy the land for the park.

County Administrator Steve Willis said the 110 acres the county is eying is in holding and has not been closed on.

The land is across from the airport on the south side of S.C. 9 near the Lancaster/Chester county line.

The city’s role

Since talks between the two councils began, City Council has agreed to invest in the project, largely for water and sewer upgrades.

The city’s investment will add two additional pump stations on S.C. 9 Bypass and improve a third station on Meeting Street, said City Administrator Helen Sowell.

The city has braced itself for industrial growth in the past few years by upgrading its sewer-treatment plant to one that can handle substantially more water per day.

“High-capacity water lines in the area are capable of delivering water in excess of the amount needed to provide site certification of the park,” Sowell said.

City Finance Director James Absher said the $900,000 will come from reserves in the city’s gross revenue fund. About $2.2 million in reserves are in that fund, he said.

Revenue and fees

Tuesday’s vote also means that any prospective tenant at the planned park will have to follow an existing city ordinance that affects water and sewer users located outside the city limits.

According to the ordinance, any tenant at the park will have to sign an agreement to annex into the city when the property becomes contiguous to the city limits.

If a tenant doesn’t want to do that, it will have a second option to pay an annual fee.

Such fee-in-lieu-of-tax agreements will be based on a fee that equals 50 mills. A mill (a tenth of a cent) is used in the equation to determine a landowner’s property taxes.

Absher said he doesn’t know how much a prospective park tenant would have to pay per year, as that total will also be based on the property assessment ratio, the fair-market value of the property and any other special credits the tenant would receive.

“It depends on a lot of factors,” Absher said.

Blackmon-Brace, who cast Tuesday’s dissenting vote, said she supports the park idea, but opposed the measure because of the millage stipulation.

To encourage industry to locate at the park, she wished the city had waived the 50-mill fee. She believes having to pay that, as well as county taxes, may deter industry.

“Nobody is going to go in that business park with that extra tax. We need to do something to make it easier for people to locate there,” Blackmon-Brace said.

“I wasn’t voting against the park,” she said. “I was voting against the mills.”

What’s next?

Willis said one company is in serious discussions to possibly build its operations inside the park. Those talks are part of what’s being called “Project Brick.”

The name or nature of the entity hasn’t been disclosed, though Willis said it’s a manufacturing company.

Willis said that company is expected to meet with Lancaster County Economic Development Corp. next week to further discuss the possibility.

Willis said county officials are waiting to see how those negotiations go before making a decision to buy the property.

“We’ve got a lot of plans,” Willis said. “We’re hoping this will work out. Our big thing is jobs, jobs jobs.”

By Jesef Williams, Staff Reporter with The Lancaster News