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Property tax variance wide in Upstate

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Taxes are something that business owners are all too familiar with, especially when it comes to property tax.

Not only do business owners pay these property taxes as a citizen, on their house and other property, but they also pay property taxes as a business. It is an unavoidable expense for doing business in an area. So it is imperative when businesses are looking for an area to work in, they consider the property tax and location.

Property tax is a levy on land, improvements to land-like buildings, personal property and intangible property that is established by the local county government in order to pay for government funded functions, such as waste management, public schools, fire departments, police and other functions.

According to a list compiled by The Tax Foundation in 2015 listing all 50 states in order from most expensive property tax to least expensive, South Carolina tied with District of Columbia at No. 46, both having a tax rate of .57%.

Upstate counties have some of the lowest property taxes in the state. As of 2016, according to SmartAsset.com’s property tax map and county 2016-2017 budgets, Abbeville has a rate of .52% and generates $5.8 million in revenue; Cherokee’s rate is .57% and generates $72.1 million in revenue. Anderson has a rate of .60% and generates $46.8 million in revenue, while Union has a rate of .68% and generates $6.4 million in revenue.

Some rates, while higher than others, generate less revenue than others. An example of this is comparing Greenville and Spartanburg counties. Greenville County has a tax rate higher than its neighbor - .68% to .63% - but Spartanburg County generated more than $7 million more in tax revenue. That is because there are many factors that affect property tax income, such as population, the cost of living, tax incentives and how many businesses are operating in the area. For instance, Greenville County grants manufacturers incentives based on job creation and capital investment.

Counties such as Pickens and Oconee come in at the lowest with .48% and .49% respectively. These rates are assumed to generate $16.9 million and $37.7 million in revenue respectively. These counties, while having a smaller population, offer low property taxes as a means of attracting business.

“This is a competitive advantage for us when we are going out to recruit companies for our existing business space to allow the community to grow,” said Richard Blackwell, executive director of the Oconee Economic Alliance.

While counties like Oconee use their low property tax as a way to attract businesses to the area, there are some disadvantages. Located near the west end of the I-85 corridor, it has a population of 75,000. This means a smaller local labor force. So to offset that, Oconee looks outside of South Carolina.

“We bleed a little into northeast Georgia,” said Blackwell. “We’re helping to get Georgia residents jobs in Oconee County, both as a border community that we are. That is our labor shed. We have about 630,000 people living within 30 minutes of the heart of Oconee County.”

Blackwell said the county has been investing money in product and people.

“Product meaning industrial sites, getting those industrial sites ready and then also people,” said Blackwell. “People dealing with getting the workforce where it needs to be for the jobs of tomorrow. So we have worked a lot with our school system here in Oconee County to introduce new programs and change the perception around manufacturing. So we’re working on getting the people equation solved so that when a company is looking at our market we can stand before them and say that ‘We are ready.’”

On the other end of the list is Greenwood County. Opposite of Oconee, Greenwood has the highest property taxes in the Upstate, at .72%, and generates $13.6 million in revenue. Greenwood County has direct rail services to Charleston and Savannah, Ga., but it is an hour away from I-385 and I-85. While these may be recruitment red flags, county officials said the pros outweigh the cons. Those pros include competitive operational costs due to lower utility rates.

Greenwood County was the first county in the Upstate in 2015 to be debt free, and has seen an increase in life science industries like the Greenwood Genetic Center. Companies like Capsugel and Medtronic are some examples. This also includes a $600 million investment from the Japanese chemical, pharmaceutical and information technology manufacturing company Teijin Ltd. for the development of a manufacturing facility which will create 220 new job in the area.

The county has been facing some financial issues though, both in terms of budgeting issues and locations for manufacturers.

Heather Simmons-Jones, CEO of the Greenwood Partnership Alliance, said state lawmakers’ failing to fully fund the Local Government Fund – state aid distributed to local governments by the S.C. Treasurer’s office – has put local leaders in a tough spot, forcing what she called “difficult budgeting decisions.”

“There are limited options available for budget reductions,” said Jones. “And because counties house state agencies and pay for, but yet, have no control over, the statewide court system, these unfunded mandates must be paid out of property taxes.”

Another issue facing the county, said Jones, is that it is “seeing a shortage of buildings and sites for economic development uses and has been diligent to identify, certify and develop assets for the future economic success of the community.”

In response to this issue, a capital projects sales tax referendum was passed Nov. 8 with 65% favorability. The referendum will keep sales tax dollars raised in Greenwood County in the county and will expire after eight years. Capital raised by this would go to five committees, including the economic development, infrastructure, parks/recreation, public safety and quality of life committees. Specifically, in terms of addressing the issue, the capital will go to the “development of a publicly-owned industrial park and spec building,” according to Jones.

Property Tax Rates in the Upstate

Upstate County

Property Tax Rate

Pickens

0.48%

Oconee

0.49%

Abbeville

0.52%

Laurens

0.53%

Cherokee

0.57%

Anderson

0.60%

Spartanburg

0.63%

Union

0.66%

Greenville

0.68%

Greenwood

0.72%

Source: Smart Asset.com Property Tax Map (https://smartasset.com/taxes/property-taxes)

 

Thomas Calamia is a freelance journalist.

 

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