County prepares for legal battle with city of Clemson

COUNTY — Monday night Pickens County Council voted 5-1 to pursue legal action against the city of Clemson regarding use of tax increment tax district finance (TIF) money.
Councilman Jeff Martin, who represents the Clemson area, provided the only negative vote.
Martin said the county should delay action considering the recent death of Clemson Mayor Larry Abernathy and the upcoming election of a new mayor.
Councilman Trey Whitehurst disagreed, noting that when county officials spoke with Clemson city officials, the county was willing to allow Clemson keep the TIF money already in use, but wanted to address the future use of TIF funds.
“I don’t think pursuing legal action limits anything,” Whitehurst said. “I think it is the only thing we can do to come to a resolution.”
Martin questioned the wisdom of spending county tax dollars paying lawyers if a settlement could be found without a legal battle.
Councilman Tom Ponder said he doubted the city of Clemson would voluntarily come to an agreement.
“The city of Clemson, historically, is very arrogant,” Ponder said. “This is not a new issue. In their dialogue, they continue to be very arrogant.”
Ponder suggested that the county “draw a line in the dirt” to force Clemson into compliance.
“I am tired of their arrogance,” Ponder said. “It is time that we move ahead.”
Councilman Neil Smith said that it was council’s duty to protect tax dollars.
“They have been taking our kids’ money and using it to build city facilities,” Smith said. “That’s real slick, but it’s not right.”
County administrator Chap Hurst said that in meetings with Clemson city administrator Rick Cotton, Cotton said he was insulted by the county’s action. Hurst said he had received a letter from the Clemson city attorney that “was very disrespectful.”
“We were basically told that there was no other way we could go forward without an attorney,” Hurst said.
“We owe it to the citizens of Pickens County,” Council chair Jennifer Willis said.
Earlier in the meeting, during the public input session, several county residents spoke in favor of the county pursuing legal action.
Weldon Clark urged council to fight the city of Clemson regarding the TIF money.
“The size of the TIF was to be about $8 million,” Clark said. “The city has already received that amount of money and more, but is slated to get another five years of school and county tax revenue. That is excessive and violates the agreement. The extra money should be used to hire teachers and fix our roads and bridges, not to be lavishly spent on Clemson’s pet projects.”
Clark questioned whether county taxpayers should finance improvements in Clemson city limits.
“The city of Clemson has many highly paid individuals who should pay for their own Garden of Eden,” Clark said.
Former county administrator Tom Hendricks said he was reluctant to address council.
“I don’t like to come here because I run into someone and I wind up getting mad,” Hendricks said.
Clemson’s use of county TIF money was especially bad since the city recently turned away a “big-box store” that could have provided much city tax revenue, Hendricks said.
Hendricks said that Horry County was considered the “dumbest county” in the state because it had so much tourist traffic, yet refused to pass a local option sales tax. Hendricks warned that if Pickens County is not careful, it will take over that “honor” from Horry County.