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Economy: County buying timber land for industrial development
By Charles Swenson
Georgetown County plans to diversify its appeal to new industry with the final phase of a capital improvement project.
County Council approved the $28.9 million plan last week and followed that with a vote to spend the bulk of the $3.5 million allocated for economic development to buy property.
The location was not announced pending approval from the seller, Red Mountain Timber Co., a partnership that owns former International Paper Co. property. However, the county is seeking to rezone 948 acres on behalf of Red Mountain on the Sampit River west of Georgetown for heavy industry. The site is across Pennyroyal Road from Santee Cooper’s Winyah Generating Station.
“It would pretty much use what was designated for economic development,” County Administrator Sel Hemingway said.
The quick turnaround reflects the fact that the project has been in development for a long time, said Brian Tucker, the county’s economic development director. “We are constantly looking for the right place and the right type of property that economic development prospects are in need of,” he said. “Product development is the biggest thing we do in this office.”
The county has an industrial park outside Andrews and is developing a technology park at Pawleys Island to accompany the expansion of Mercom. The capital improvement plan also contains $1.2 million to build a spec building in the fiscal year that begins in July 2019.
The additional property will be used to diversify the county’s offerings. “I can’t say much until the contract is executed,” Tucker said. “The proposed property would be a different product that would appeal to a different type of user.”
The plan adopted by County Council will take a process that began in 2008 with the recommendations of the citizens committee known as Visions through June 2021. By that time, the process will have completed $229.7 million in projects, including $39.8 million funded by a 1-cent capital improvement sales tax approved by voters in 2014. When the cost of debt service and operations are added, the capital plan will total nearly $401 million over its lifetime.
The county is scheduled to revive the Visions committee next summer to start planning for future projects. The capital sales tax ends in April 2019 and another committee will be created to come up with projects to place before voters in a referendum in 2020.
The sales tax account has $11.7 million in excess funds because collections exceeded initial estimates and the county decided not to allocate $6 million to help dredge the shipping channel through Winyah Bay. The estimated cost of the dredging, to be shared by the federal and state governments, soared and the volume of shipping declined. The state law that allows the county to collect the sales tax requires that County Council adopt an ordinance to spend any excess. That can’t be done until the other referendum projects are completed.
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