By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Council OKs $75,000 for Belle House
City to reimburse business for fees, building expenses
Belle House for Web
In this photo from July 2010, Vivian Thompson, left, closes a contract with Sarah Long for a wedding reception at "The Belle House." The city council voted Tuesday to reimburse the owners for some of their water and sewage costs. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/Herald File

A Statesboro City Council decision rendered last year will result in up to $75,000 of reimbursements paid to a local business seeking equal treatment.

The council unanimously approved a motion Tuesday to reward reimbursements for expenses - TAP fees and building costs - incurred during construction of The Belle House on Westside Road late last year.

Council voted Tuesday to reward the event venue between $70,000 and $75,000 in honor of "fairness" after deciding in September last year to wave fees associated with tapping into city services for the recently constructed Clubhouse project on Old Register Road.

Both sites annexed land into the city in exchange for the compensatory funds.

"The Belle House is a good project but it's like comparing two different fruits. It's not the same at all," said Councilman Will Britt about Belle House receiving the requested funds. "To say that we should pay for 100 percent of [The Belle House project] because we paid for Hackers, to me, does not make much sense. The project is simply not as beneficial."

The council decided not to award the full amount requested by Belle House - $106,222.50 - but will pay up to $75,000.

Though the Belle House is a great project that will benefit the city, its affect on Statesboro is far less than that of The Clubhouse, said Britt.

Still, no council member raised an objection to the motion, in part, because members of council felt an obligation to approve.

An August meeting among Mayor Joe Brannen, former city manager Shane Haynes and Belle House owner Biff Thompson, in which Thompson was told the Belle House project could also receive concessions if annexed into the city, left the council, according to District Five Councilman Travis Chance, in a precarious spot.

"Once the concessions were promised, the council, whether we like it or not, were on the hook to do what we did," said Chance. "Mr. Thompson has followed through on everything he promised. I just felt like it was the right thing to do."

The decision to award reimbursements was made "because our mayor and previous city manager told [Thompson], ‘if you do this, we'll do this in return,'" said Britt.

Thompson, who was not aware of the arrangement between the city and Hackers during construction on the Belle House, approached the mayor and former city manager, once aware of the circumstances. Based on the conversation had with Haynes and Brannen, Thompson initiated plans to annex into the city with intent to receive compensation.

"Basically, [Thompson] found out what the city did at Hackers and he wanted to know why he wasn't supplied the same opportunities," said Statesboro Mayor Joe Brannen. "Shane [Haynes] told him, if [Thompson] would agree to have land annexed in, he could get council to approve. From what I gathered, Haynes presented the idea to Mr. Thompson."

According to Thompson, the information about the city's agreement with Hackers was delivered via mail from an unknown source.

"The fact the Mr. Thompson received an anonymous letter with in-house information about the correspondence between Hackers and city departments, troubles me a little bit," said Chance. "Regardless, it happened. Mr. Thompson was promised the same concessions and he has made good on everything he was supposed to."

Though no council member opposed reimbursements for the Belle House project, Chance and Britt did express concern about the way in which the motion made its way to council.

"The council is the only body that should bind the city to give considerations for a project," said Chance. "I would encourage our whole administration to keep that philosophy, rather than make statements that we have to pay for later."

The council plans to discuss the issue going forward.

"We are trying to stop the mayor and city manager from making promises that council then has to approve later on," said Britt. "Even though the promises aren't binding, we feel an obligation to honor them."

The issue is one that Interim City Manager Frank Parker agrees should be remedied.

"So many times developers think, because they are in agreement with a city manager or department head, then that becomes the way it will be," Parker said. "We have to present ideas to city council, only when they agree, does it become law."

"There may have been an error in this case," he said. "Mr. Thompson may have assumed, because the city manager agreed, that it would be so."

The Belle House reimbursements include approximately $57,000 for a water line running to the property, $6,000 in TAP fees and more $8000 in engineering costs. Additional expenses will be discussed by Thompson and Parker, and motioned for approval in the council's next meeting.

Jeff Harrison can be reached at 912-489-9454.

 

Sign up for the Herald's free e-newsletter