In two actions Tuesday involving the city-county relationship and taxes, Statesboro City Council affirmed an agreement bringing county revenue into the South Main Street TAD fund and authorized negotiations toward a Transportation SPLOST referendum.
Deciphering those acronyms: The TAD, or Tax Allocation District, does not increase anyone’s taxes. The local legislation devotes growth in property tax revenue within the defined district to public projects meant to spur and assist redevelopment. However, the T-SPLOST, or Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, would be an added 1 percent tax in Bulloch County.
After referendum voters gave the city the power, City Council established the South Main TAD effective Dec. 31, 2014. Taxes on the value of property appraised in the district before that date continue to go to the city’s general fund, but added revenue from new construction or rising values goes to the TAD fund.
So far, only Statesboro’s city tax has been involved, but from the first, TAD supporters talked about getting the Bulloch County Board of Commissioners and Board of Education to commit growth in their property tax revenue within the district to the TAD fund. The commissioners unanimously approved the agreement Oct. 3.
“This has been a long time coming, but aren’t we happy!” Mayor Jan Moore said at Tuesday’s council meeting.
The county’s contribution “will, in essence, double the amount,” going into the fund, said City Attorney Cain Smith. He presented the intergovernmental agreement for the council’s approval.
Under the agreement, the county government will not actually contribute all its property tax growth within the district to the TAD fund. Instead, as long as the county’s millage rate remains higher than the city’s, the county will match the city’s TAD revenue, and the county’s contribution will never exceed the city’s.
In May, city Finance Director Cindy West said that the city’s TAD revenue amounted to $21,082 for fiscal year 2016 and had reached $73,688 for fiscal year 2017, which then ended June 30. In its current, fiscal 2018 budget, the city projected $75,000 in TAD revenue.
So, after the agreement takes effect with the county taxes to be collected in 2018, the combined city and county TAD revenues should amount to roughly $150,000 annually before any further growth.
Besides covering the “Blue Mile” of South Main Street from the courthouse to Georgia Southern University, the TAD extends along Brannen Street to the Gentilly Square shopping center area and includes some areas west of the Blue Mile.
The intergovernmental agreement could last for the maximum life of the TAD, ending with 2039. But the agreement includes a provision that if no significant TAD projects begin within 10 years, the city will end the TAD and return the county’s accumulated share.
Although City Council retains the authority to approve all projects, the agreement gives the county a say by requiring that projects can only be approved on the recommendation of the TAD Advisory Committee. The committee will consist of three members appointed by the county commissioners and three appointed by the mayor and council.
The agreement specifically prohibits spending TAD money on government buildings.
Both Moore, mayor since January 2014, and Deputy City Manager Robert Cheshire, who served as interim city manager for much of the period, said efforts to win county participation started three years ago.
“This is one of those messy governance things that, when you’re trying to work out an agreement between two entities, the city and the county, took a while to do,” Moore said.
She specifically thanked Cheshire and City Manager Randy Wetmore, who has been on the job since September 2016, for their work and patience in the negotiations.
Councilman Phil Boyum added words of appreciation to the entire city staff. He also thanked the Downtown Statesboro Development Authority and the South Main Revitalization Committee, now the Blue Mile Committee, for efforts beginning more than five years ago that led to the TAD.
Request to BOE
“And I would like to implore the Bulloch County school board to join in this effort,” Boyum said. “This is especially important as the community considers the ESPLOST initiative this election cycle.”
The Board of Education has a referendum on a Nov. 7 countywide ballot to extend the Education SPLOST, one of the three existing 1 percent local sales taxes in Bulloch County, for another five years. The school system also receives the 1 percent regular Local Option Sales Tax, while the county and cities divide the standard SPLOST.
The county commissioners’ agreement does not bring revenue growth from the school system’s share of property taxes into the TAD fund. But it acknowledges that the city intends to ask the Board of Education to do so and allows it to be done by modifying the agreement.
“Anything our community can do together to foster continued growth of our commercial, residential and industrial properties benefits us all, and increase in retail especially benefits the Bulloch County school system,” Boyum said.
Seconded by Councilman Jeff Yawn, Boyum’s motion to approve the intergovernmental agreement with the county passed 4-0. Councilman John Riggs was absent.
The council also voted 4-0 to authorize the mayor and staff to continue “preliminary negotiations” with the county and the three other towns toward a Transportation SPLOST referendum. This added tax, to fund transportation projects and related purchases, would increase Bulloch County’s local sales taxes to 4 percent. With the state collecting a 4 percent tax, the total tax on nonexempt items would then be 8 percent.
A timeline presented Tuesday suggests that officials need to draft project lists in November and adopt an intergovernmental agreement in December to put the referendum on a May 22 ballot.
“We’re working on those lists now,” said Cheshire, who noted that city staff members had also met with council members individually.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.