Edgefield County Council took the first step in putting the Bailey Bill into action within the county at their regularly scheduled Feb. meeting, Tuesday night, Feb. 2. (See coverage of full Council meeting in our related article.) The Bailey Bill is a bill that was enacted by the SC Legislature in 1992 that allows local governments to essentially freeze property taxes as a means to encourage restoration/rehabilitation of certain properties, most notably, historical ones. This lock on property taxes can be for up to 20 years, and the tax rate is based on a property’s fair market value at the time of restoration.
At their meeting, Council passed, on first reading, an ordinance that will give a special tax incentive for rehabilitation of historic homes. “We believe this is a good ordinance,” Interim Administrator Roger LeDuc told Council as he went on the explain the incentive will apply to homeownership properties and not to business or rental properties. He further told Council that the ordinance would allow 10 years before the qualifying properties would see a property tax increase. LeDuc also explained that Council would need to designate an organization that would act as overseer of the work and that would develop criteria for historic designation of properties. He went on to inform Council that the Edgefield Preservation Association has volunteered to be that overseer. LeDuc told that the Association would not only determine which properties are eligible for the incentive but also what aspects of the project must be preserved to qualify for the tax freeze. He said their involvement would be a two part process; pre-certification and post certification. Before the project begins they would determine what work would need to be done for historical preservation purposes. After the project’s completion, the association would inspect the project to make sure the noted work was done. LeDuc further stated that the Association would not be taking the place of the building inspectors explaining that the building inspectors are concerned with safety from a structural stand point and that the association would be focusing on historical and cosmetic features.
Most of the discussion on this ordinance centered on whether or not there would be an appeals process should a homeowner not agree with the Edgefield Preservation Assoc.’s assessments. Interim Administrator Roger LeDuc told Council that most counties that have similar ordinances do not have an appeals process because the overseeing organization and the renovator can typically come to an agreement. Max Shanks, speaking on behalf of the Edgefield Preservation Assoc., told Council that the organization’s entire purpose is to get people into these homes and to see them renovated. He said that he did not see how issues could not be resolved. “Everyone wants to work towards getting this done,” Shanks said. However, Chairman Dean Campbell said, “I kinda like having an appeals process.” He went on to state that he especially felt this process was important because of the uncertainty as to the makeup of the Preservation Assoc. in twenty years. To these concerns, LeDuc suggested that the SC Archives Association could be the organization to handle appeals. This was deemed acceptable by Council and is expected to be included in the second reading of the ordinance.
Councilwoman Betty Butler questioned whether the Preservation Association would be paid for their role as overseer. To this, LeDuc said that the Association is a volunteer organization whose purpose is to make sure historical properties are preserved. However, he went on the tell Council that there would be a $150 application fee and that the Association would be “very happy to receive the money.” It was also suggested that the fee could be split. Chairman Campbell said that a decision on who gets the money needed to be made, but Council, ultimately, did not settle on the issue.
As to which entity will be in charge of keeping track of the 10 year term of the property tax freeze, LeDuc told Council that that would be handled by the County Assessor’s Office. He also told Council that this ordinance “seems like an awful lot of hoops to go through” and such, LeDuc explained that the county will not have a lot of applications for this yearly. In fact, LeDuc questioned incoming administrator Tommy Paradise, who was in attendance though not yet officially on the job, as to how many applications Aiken County sees each year. Paradise responded that Aiken County receives “one or two” every couple of years. LeDuc went on to say that while he did not expect to see Edgefield County get a lot of applications, he did expect to them get “a few a year.”
LeDuc was asked if the three towns, Edgefield, Johnston, and Trenton, supported the ordinance. Johnston Mayor Terrance Culbreath, who was also in attendance, has previously gone on record as being in favor of the measure. In fact, he was one of the sponsor’s of the idea when it was first proposed to Council at their January meeting. Citing Culbreath’s support, LeDuc told Council that the other two mayors in the county are aware of the proposed ordinance but are waiting to see what action Council took on the measure before bringing it to their councils.
In the end, Council did pass the original ordinance, without any amendments, presented to them. However, a slightly different ordinance is expected to be presented at second reading as LeDuc was instructed to take matters discussed and apply them to the ordinance when it is next presented. The matter passed Council in a 4-1 vote with Councilwoman Butler voting negatively saying that she was waiting on the changes to the ordinance before deciding if she is going to support it.
The second reading of this ordinance is expected to be presented to Council at their next monthly meeting, Tuesday, March 1.