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Mount Vintage Developer offers views on residential growth and column
web posted October 19, 2006
Letter to the Editor
I read with interest your editorial “Building higher taxes and lowered revenues.” I agree with your conclusion that residential growth is not always healthy for counties. When young families with a number of children move into a county, more often than not the cost to the county will exceed the direct and indirect tax revenue produced. As growth with young families continues, the county will be continually challenged to build new schools to accommodate the school population. The capital and operating costs of these schools can be oppressive. Other county services may have to be added as well, including law enforcement and ambulances. In the end the net cost of providing the services required by this kind of growth will, in most cases, exceed the growth in the county’s tax base and will put further burden on taxpayers.
I should note for the record that this is not a new debate. Over the last decade this has been a regular subject for discussion in the monthly meetings of the Edgefield County Economic Development Committee. One person who vigorously agrees with you on this point is our former County Administrator, Wayne Adams. Mr. Adams recognized that population growth which included significant growth in the school-age population was very unhealthy from a budgetary perspective for counties. He constantly urged county policies which discouraged such development. Additionally, at various times at least three of our present County Councilmen have participated in such discussions.
While budgetary pressures on local government will result from growth characterized by young families, I would submit that a very different case exists for the growth at Mount Vintage Plantation. Here, the vast majority of our residents are retirees, with an average of 55 to 65 and with no children living with them. Indeed, with nearly 175 families at Mount Vintage today, only a handful have children and the majority of those attend private schools in Augusta. Thus, Mount Vintage puts no perceptible burden on our public school system.
Additionally, the new Edgefield County residents at Mount Vintage are constructing homes which far exceed the average value of homes in the County and therefore contribute a much larger percentage to our real estate tax base than the existing housing base. Additionally, most of the couples who live at Mount Vintage have at least two vehicles which are newer and more expensive than the average vehicles in Edgefield County, making their contribution to our tax base even larger than real estate alone would suggest.
Mount Vintage also does not use, to a major extent, our county services other than schools. The roads in Mount Vintage are private and therefore the County has zero maintenance burden associated with them. All water and sewer lines and services are installed and paid for by the development company, so the Edgefield County Water & Sewer Authority (unlike the Aiken Electric Cooperative and the Comcast cable company who install and pay for their own lines and infrastructure) is being given a rapidly-growing, well-heeled customer base which is making a very material contribution to improving the financial health of that public body.
Mount Vintage also has its own security force, paid for by the Mount Vintage Plantation Homeowners’ Association, and so the burden on the Sheriff’s department, while not being totally eliminated, is certainly substantially reduced. We do rely on the Emergency Medical Services of the County and, to a lesser extent, on the Edgefield County Hospital. But here too the county is getting a substantial benefit, for our residents typically have health insurance or are capable of paying their own bills. Thus, the county is not incurring ambulance, hospital or emergency health costs from indigent citizens which will have to be written off. We do also rely on the local Fire Departments which are providing excellent coverage for Mount Vintage.
A major indirect benefit which Mount Vintage provides for Edgefield County is the part it plays in enhancing the image and reputation of the County in the region and across the state and country. Anyone involved in economic development will tell you that the buzz word is no longer “cheap labor” which sustained the South’s growth in industrial development over many decades, but rather “quality of life” which is the decision-making factor in the vast majority of economic development location decisions today. Mount Vintage, with its residential home offering and its amenity package provides an undeniable contribution to the quality of life in Edgefield County and has put our County on a par with almost every county in South Carolina, if not in the South.
Perhaps the most important contribution which Mount Vintage has made to the County is that fact that our residents represent a major “brain drain” into our County. These residents are extremely intelligent and capable people who have had distinguished careers in business, academia, medicine and many other fields. They are, on the whole, a relatively young group of retirees who still have many years of productive life ahead of them and who have the potential to make major contributions to our County. They can serve on our County boards and become volunteers in our County’s charitable organizations. Our neighboring county of McCormick, where Savannah Lakes Community was started some years before Mount Vintage, has already seen the Savannah Lakes residents playing a major role in moving that County forward.
Additionally, many Mount Vintage residents have the intelligence, the background, the inclination and the capital to start new businesses which will make very material contributions to the economy of the County. We are very hopeful that that will ultimately be a major contribution to Edgefield County.
Your editorial hits pretty hard on builders and developers, implying that they are greedy and simply looking for short-term personal gain at the public expense. While such charges are easy to make, I think that the majority of the people of the county who will take the time to reflect on the issues set forth above will recognize that Mount Vintage Plantation is making a major contribution to Edgefield County which will have positive implications for decades to come. If you extrapolate the growth of Mount Vintage out five, ten, fifteen and twenty-five years, you cannot help but conclude that Mount Vintage will substantially reduce the tax burden on our citizens and improve the quality of services which our County provides. As our Council reflects on the tax millage issue before them, they should consider the potentially negative impact which raising taxes unnecessarily will have on the positive contributions which Mount Vintage can make to the long-term health of our County.
I would also like to comment on the fact that you have been pretty hard on our local County Councilmen in this and other editorial comments. In my experience in working with the public bodies of this county over thirty years, I have concluded that our County Council members are, by and large, good, well-intentioned people with sound judgment and a sense of basic fairness. While citizens can criticize them on this issue or that, I believe that for part-time public servants they do, on the whole, a good job for our County. They are generally open to suggestions and sound logic on the issues facing the County. So often, however, the issues are not nearly as simple as they initially appear to outside observers.
Before citizens hurl criticisms at the members of our County Council, they should take the time to investigate in detail the issues which they are concerned about and make positive suggestions based upon specific facts and sound logic. I hope that, as time goes on, you will make more of your suggestions and contributions in a positive, rather than negative, manner. Ours is a small county, but if we work together for the public good, we can accomplish much.
In closing, I will make a final comment on your remark that “the developers [will] simply move to the next county full of ineffective local leaders . . . .” I will assure you that I will not be moving. I am here in Edgefield County to stay for the duration, and I hope that history will judge our contribution here to have been a positive one.
Bettis C. Rainsford
Editor's note: Bettis Rainsford is the developer of Mount Vintage, Shaw Estates, and the recent development at Pine Ridge Country Club.
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