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Mayor pitches South Main TAD to school board

Still no agreement as board members demand specifics

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Mayor pitches South Main TAD to school board

Statesboro Mayor Jonathan McCollar talks to the Bulloch County Board of Education.


Statesboro Mayor Jonathan McCollar spoke to the Bulloch County Board of Education this week, urging the board to commit its growth in property tax revenue from within the city’s South Main Street tax allocation district to the TAD redevelopment fund.

“The vision for our community is to increase the footprint as an economic hub for Southeast Georgia,” McCollar said. “The vision will be achieved by building out soft and hard infrastructure for the community so that we’ll be able to advance our efforts to become more of an innovation and destination hub.”

His presentation and the related discussion took up an hour in the middle of Thursday night’s BOE meeting. But as McCollar emphasized the vision for what is often called the Blue Mile area, several school board members appeared unmoved toward committing a share of the school system’s revenue. They requested specifics on the form TAD-funded projects will take and how these will cause growth to occur.

McCollar cited a $70,000 estimate of that annual share, matching currently projected TAD revenue shares from the city and county government. But Superintendent of Schools Charles Wilson said the school system’s sacrifice would be more than $130,000 a year, since joining the TAD would reset the property tax revenue the system keeps from that area to the 2014 level.

In the existing agreement, the county commissioners did not agree to give up all of the county government’s potential revenue gains, but only to match the city’s share.

As other representatives of the Blue Mile effort had done in January, the mayor argued that the school system will gain revenue in the long run by growing the tax base within the TAD.

 

TAD facts

Tax Allocation District legislation devotes growth in property tax revenue within the defined district, which was identified as blighted or economically depressed, to projects meant to spur and assist redevelopment in that district. It does not increase millage rates, but relies on new construction and rising market values.

Empowered to create tax allocation districts by voters in a fall 2014 city referendum, Statesboro City Council established the South Main TAD more than three years ago. It has been in effect for city taxes since Dec. 31, 2014, but only last fall did the Bulloch County Board of Commissioners agree to commit a portion of the county’s revenue growth to the TAD fund, beginning with 2018’s tax income.

For the Board of Education also to commit its growth in tax revenue within the district to the TAD, the city has offered equal representation on TAD Advisory Committee. The city now has three appointed representatives on the TAD committee, the county commissioners have three representatives, and the school board would appoint three if it joined the agreement.

City Council retains a final vote on what redevelopment projects receive TAD funding, but under the agreement between the city and county governments, the council cannot approve any project unless it is first recommended by the Tad Advisory Committee.

The value of property in the South Main TAD, state-certified at $38.9 million at the end of 2014, has risen to “about the mid-40’s now,” McCollar told the school board.

“When property value goes up, tax revenue goes up, and guess what, that means more funding for the governing bodies that are associated with that,” he said.

To this point there has been no TAD-funding or TAD-backed financing of projects. There has been an emphasis on development in the area, including the effort that won the $1 million America’s Best Communities competition third prize, now controlled by the local Blue Mile Foundation.

McCollar noted that the city and county governments have no share in the regular Local Option Sales Tax, devoted long ago to funding the school system, and that fewer than 10 Georgia counties have done this. He also invoked support for the Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, approved by voters again in November, in his appeal for school board participation in the TAD.

Everyone in the county uses services and businesses within the city limits and would benefit from economic growth, he argued.

“So what we need, just like we rallied around E-SPLOST, just like we rallied around other initiatives within the community, it’s time for all of us to rally around creating a city that is going to be able to compete with other areas,” McCollar said.

 

A 21-year deal

But Board of Education members requested hard data about the connection between tax allocation districts and gains in property values. Now in the fourth year of the city’s 25-year TAD authorization, if the school board joined now there would be 21 years remaining.

“I wholeheartedly agree with the vision that’s been presented, both previously by the committee and this evening by you,” District 1 board member Cheri Wagner told McCollar.

Then she said she faces a struggle in being asked for a 20-year commitment binding future board members. She noted that projects in the TAD plan were described as “illustrative” and asked how the vision becomes a reality.

“This is a plan that’s basically a vision for illustrative purposes, and you’re asking me, as an elected official, to vote 20 years on an illustrative plan, a plan for illustration purposes,” Wagner said. “That’s where I’m struggling right now.”

The plan’s example projects are meant to show the kinds of things that might work, McCollar said.

“But it does not limit us to those specific projects,” he said. “The exciting part about this is that the TAD committee is going to put those real projects, those real things inside of that TAD district.”

He suggested that the BOE could ask its TAD committee representatives to give regular reports about specific projects being considered.

 

Reluctant board

District 4 BOE member Steve Hein said he needs “to see not the qualitative but the quantitative” including data linking TAD projects in other communities to economic gains.

BOE Chairman Mike Sparks also said he wants “the facts and the figures.” District 3 member Dr. Stuart Tedders suggested the board would want to discern a link to student achievement, and McCollar said a connection would be easy to make because poverty is related to lower achievement and the TAD plan would help reduce poverty.

Noting that the county has a TAD at the Interstate 16 interchange and that another TAD has been suggested, board members also expressed reluctance to set a precedent.

“We’ll put something together with some hard numbers, and at the end of the day the city and the county are on board, so we’re moving forward,” McCollar said. “It would be great if the school board would come on and join us. … But maybe this is not the project that you guys want to join us on, maybe it’s another TAD, maybe it’s something else that we could work together on in a collaborative effort.”

 

Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.

 

 

 

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