Houston County leaders look to SPLOST funds for development

wcrenshaw@macon.comFebruary 20, 2012 

WARNER ROBINS -- The upcoming penny sales tax referendum in Houston County looks to correct what economic development leaders say has long been a handicap in efforts to lure industry.

The $155 million proposal includes $19 million going to the county to buy land for economic development.

Houston County Commission Chairman Tommy Stalnaker said no particular sites have been identified, noting there will likely end up being at least two different sites, with rail and interstate access important priorities.

Stalnaker said having land set aside for industry is key to giving Houston County an edge in the highly competitive recruitment game.

“This county has really lagged behind on creating new jobs through industrial development for a number of years,” Stalnaker said. “I have said many times it is not the fault of any individual. The main reason we lag behind is we have never had the resources necessary to have large tracts of land that are site-ready.”

The county has a speculative building that has been vacant since its construction in 2001.

In hindsight, Stalnaker conceded, the $2.4 million spent on the building would have been better spent on just land, so that industries can build to the size needed. The speculative building is too small for many industries, but he said there is a good prospect for it now and he has made it a priority to get it filled.

Having land set aside and owned by the county is important, Stalnaker said, because it can remove a snag in recruitment. A private landowner would be looking to get top dollar, but if an industry is making an investment that would add millions to the tax digest and bring jobs, Stalnaker said the county could donate the land as incentive.

Without major industry, the burden of property taxes falls largely to homeowners.

“It is absolutely necessary that we expand our industrial tax base in this county,” Stalnaker said. “We have far too many house rooftops compared to industrial property in the county. It helps on the taxes but more importantly is jobs, to create new jobs to give people opportunities to be able to come back and live where they grew up.”

The referendum also includes $2.5 million for the Warner Robins’ Redevelopment Agency. Mayor Chuck Shaheen said the money is generally intended to spur commercial development in the area along Ga. 247 across from Robins Air Force Base. He said there is not a specific plan, and the money could be spent over a period of years.

He said commercial development in the area would be beneficial to the base.

The sales-tax proposal includes a total of $28.9 million for economic development, which is 19 percent of the proceeds. That includes $7 million toward buying residential homes just north of the base in an area the Department of Defense considers at risk for crashes and high noise.

It also includes $400,000 for equipment improvements and renovations at the Perry-Houston County Airport in Perry.

To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.

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