Statesboro residents will vote in a special city election, coinciding with the Nov. 4 statewide election, on whether to give the city authority to create Tax Allocation Districts, or TADs, under the Georgia Redevelopment Powers Law.
A TAD would not increase taxes, as supporters repeatedly point out. What it would do is devote any growth in property tax revenues resulting from new construction or rising values within a previously blighted district, over a period of years, to public improvements — things such as sidewalks, parks, street lighting, scenic trails and water and sewer projects — within that district.
“It’s not a tax increase, but the idea is, as the area starts to redevelop, the increase over what it was goes back into a fund to improve that district,” said Bob Mikell.
Mikell, the chairman of the Downtown Statesboro Development Authority board, and Allen Muldrew, the DSDA’s executive director, spoke Thursday to the Statesboro Kiwanis Club. Muldrew mostly gave an overview of the authority’s programs, but Mikell spoke in more detail about how redevelopment powers would work.
At first, a district in need of redevelopment — such as the South Main Street corridor from the courthouse to the Georgia Southern University entrances — will be defined on a map. Then a “snapshot” of the district’s property values will determine the baseline for growth, Mikell explained.
While the tax on the original value continues to go to the local government’s general fund, any revenue from increases in value goes into the special fund for the district.
Bonds as bait
As a lure for a new business or housing complex, the projected revenue growth from the project itself can then be used to secure bonds for improvements that support it. Using the hypothetical example of a specialty grocery chain building a $2 million store, Mikell said the DSDA might use bonds to promise 20-foot sidewalks, removal of a vacant building and site preparation.
“So the city’s not on the hook; the county’s not on the hook,” he said. “The people on the hook are the bond underwriters or the bank that looks at a project and says, ‘OK, I’m confident that once this building is built, I’ll have the increase in taxes over the baseline value to pay off that bond.’”
The hope would be that businesses such as that grocery store could attract further development.
A plan for South Main and the area around it would include not just stores and offices, but new homes and apartments. Involving Habitat for Humanity to build homes within existing residential areas is one idea being pursued, Mikell said in an interview.
While acknowledging that the city has not created a TAD plan at this point, Muldrew said he believes that doing so could spur new development on South Main and beyond.
“We believe it’s a game changer for us,” Muldrew told the Kiwanis Club. “It’s nothing new, but it’s something big.”
It’s not new, according to Mikell, because under the state’s 1985 Redevelopment Powers Law, about 60 Georgia cities and counties have created Tax Allocation Districts.
In fact, the Bulloch County Board of Commissioners has redevelopment powers, granted by a countywide majority of voters in November 2011. The county has created one Tax Allocation District, around the Interstate 16 interchange on U.S. Highway 301. The district includes the new industrial park there, but also encompasses the other three quadrants around the interchange.
The Tax Allocation District is supposed to be a distressed area, but local governments have leeway in deciding what areas are in need of redevelopment. They submit information on the TAD, including a list of the property parcels and their base-year values certified by the local tax assessors, to the Georgia Department of Revenue.
The TAD has no direct effect on millage rates, and any later increase or decrease on the millage is applied equally to both the base values and TAD funding. But a bond issue based on TAD values would lock the base-year millage as the minimum within the TAD until the bonds are paid off, said County Manager Tom Couch.
If city voters approve redevelopment powers, City Council will then be able to create a TAD that captures revenue growth only from city taxes. For growth in county and school taxes also to be captured for the district, the Bulloch County Board of Commissioners and Board of Education would have to give separate approval.
Redevelopment of the South Main corridor was identified as a priority in community leadership retreats involving leaders from various Statesboro and Bulloch County organizations in 2013 and 2014.
“It’s not just the chamber,” said Statesboro-Bulloch Chamber of Commerce President Phyllis Thompson. “It’s public entities, private entities, local business people who see the great value of a vital downtown. The catalyst is the continued growth of the university and the entrance into the Sun Belt Conference, and the opportunity that we see to connect the campus community with the corridor that reaches to downtown.”
Beyond South Main
Keely Fennell, who chaired the chamber board in 2013, and Darron Burnette, who is chairing it this year, have led an informal group planning and promoting South Main redevelopment. This group is taking steps such as a phone campaign to encourage “yes” votes, Burnette said.
But the chamber board unanimously endorsed the redevelopment powers proposal. The chamber, Burnette said, was also the major donor for “Vote Yes” signs now appearing at downtown businesses.
He and Thompson said that, despite all the emphasis on South Main, visions for the use of a TAD extend to a wider area.
“Oh, no, I think it’s going to be the whole kind of downtown area: North Main, South Main, East,” Burnette said. “It would really provide the ability to improve the whole district that the Downtown Development Authority encompasses.”
A study to create a redevelopment plan would follow in 2015, Muldrew said. It would include setting a time limit for the TAD as well as its geography.
Voters who take advantage of the early voting period, beginning Oct. 13, will be able to vote in the general election and city referendum at one location. For those voting Nov. 4, doing both will require voting on two different machines, and in some cases at two different polling places, because the city and county have different precinct lines.
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9454.