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No South Main TAD referendum in May

Supporters set sights on November

No South Main TAD referendum in May

No South Main TAD referendum in May

Recognizing that a vote empowering the city to create a tax allocation district on South Main Street will not make its way onto the May 20 ballot, Statesboro officials are setting their sights on Nov. 4.

“We’re getting it done in November, that’s for sure,” said Allen Muldrew, executive director of the Downtown Statesboro Development Authority. He acknowledged in an interview this week that time to prepare for a May referendum had run short.

With a unanimous vote, Statesboro City Council on Jan. 7 requested authorization to use the Georgia Redevelopment Powers Law. Rep. Jan Tankersley, with Reps. Butch Parrish and Jon Burns as co-sponsors, then presented the Statesboro-specific legislation, House Bill 795, in the Georgia House of Representatives.

It passed the House on Jan. 27 and the Senate on Feb. 20. As usual with localized legislation, both votes were unanimous. But like many other bills, HB 795 is still awaiting Gov. Nathan Deal’s signature.

Once he signs it, the city will still need one more authorization, that of a majority of Statesboro’s voters, to create a tax allocation district, or TAD, around South Main Street or anywhere else.

What’s in a TAD?

The Redevelopment Powers Law enables local governments, with a one-time voter approval, to designate blighted or underdeveloped areas as tax allocation districts. This neither creates a tax nor increases rates, but any growth in property tax revenue from new buildings and rising real estate values in a TAD must be spent on improvements benefitting the district. The law also empowers local governments to issue bonds for redevelopment projects to be repaid with the growth revenues.

If voters approve, City Council could create tax allocation districts not only on South Main Street, but in other areas in the future. The city would have to hold a public hearing on each new district and submit plans to the state Department of Revenue for review.

Bulloch County already has such authority outside its cities, as approved by a majority of county voters in a November 2011 referendum. The county has created one TAD, encompassing 1,800 acres around the I-16 interchange on U.S. Highway 301. This includes a 200-acre industrial park southeast of the interchange, but also private land in the other three quadrants.

A number of city officials and business people interested in South Main view the TAD power as one tool for redevelopment. South Main has been informally defined as the stretch of U.S. 301 between the courthouse and Georgia Southern University. As recently as a January community meeting on ideas for South Main, Muldrew and others were hopeful for a May referendum.

But that won’t happen that soon. Bulloch County Election Supervisor Patricia Lanier Jones said she did not know of a specific deadline for getting a local issue of this kind on the ballot. But interviewed Tuesday, she noted that the city had not submitted any paperwork to have the Elections Board put a question on the ballot.

House Bill 795 requires advertising the date and purpose of the vote for two weeks before the election. It also states that the election must be held before April 1, 2015.

City Councilman Phil Boyum, who made the motion for redevelopment powers, said he learned from the city attorney that the city could not call a “conditional election.” Until the governor signs the bill, the referendum would remain conditional.

The delay to November has an upside, Boyum suggested.

“This is probably a benefit for the city and the DSDA in that it will give us more time to inform the public about the act, what it allows us to do, and most importantly, what it does not allow us to do, and the fact that it is not in any way, shape or form a tax increase,” he said.

County’s example

Before the November 2011 referendum, county officials worked with consultants from Ross & Associates, Bleakly Advisory Group and two engineering firms who did a preliminary study. The resulting report, called a technical document, included revenue projections, an explanation of how tax allocation districts work and an outline of the plan for the I-16 interchange.

After the ballot issue passed, the more detailed redevelopment plan was completed during the next year before the TAD took effect Jan. 1, 2013.

But the preliminary study gave TAD supporters information to use in a voter education drive, says Bulloch County Manager Tom Couch.

After that effort, the referendum was approved by 56 percent of voters countywide but rejected by a majority in some precincts, such as Leefield, Nevils and Stilson. It may be a good omen for the city that support was strongest in Statesboro, Couch said, but he suggests South Main TAD advocates need to do their homework before November.

“What they need to do between now and then is, in my opinion, if they can produce some kind of technical document or enough facts about what they want to do with the TAD and what it will pay for, they need to develop that and start getting the word out among the voters,” he said.

Couch and Muldrew have talked, and Muldrew said there has been some discussion of Bleakly Advisory Group assisting the city.

Statesboro-Bulloch Chamber of Commerce President Darron Burnette and Past President Keely Fennell are leading a community group interested in South Main revitalization, Boyum noted. This group, he said, will determine what the priorities are.

“I think once that happens, then we might look into bringing in an outside consultant to do a technical document, or perhaps our city staff may even have the capacity to do that kind of thing,” Boyum said. “If they have the expertise and we can save a little money, we certainly would consider going that direction.”

Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9454.

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