Warner Robins City Council approves creation of first tax allocation district

chwright@macon.comDecember 10, 2012 

WARNER ROBINS -- Redevelopment plans for the eastern entrance to Warner Robins took another step Monday, after City Council unanimously approved the establishment of the city’s first tax allocation district.

“This has been something that’s been a long time coming,” Councilman Mike Daley said at the special-called meeting. “It appears to be a very solid plan.”

The tax allocation district, a popular tool around the state, would allow the city to use increased property tax revenue to fund redevelopment throughout the district’s boundaries. The district is planned to be along Watson Boulevard from Commercial Circle to Ga. 247.

Typically, the school board and county also agree to contribute tax revenue generated from increased property values to the TAD.

The school board was first presented the idea Monday at its last work session of the year. Board members said they saw the benefits of the plan but questioned the tight deadline they’re now under.

For the district to be established in 2013, all parties must decide by Dec. 31. The school board has its last meeting of the year Tuesday.

“This is definitely a worthwhile project, but we tell our superintendent to present something of this magnitude” in enough time for the board to review it and vet it to the public, said Chairman Tom Walmer. “If we ask that of our superintendent, why wouldn’t we for” everyone?

The Houston County Commission is expected to vote on the issue at its next scheduled meeting, Dec. 18. Commissioners were presented the project Dec. 4.

As part of the TAD, the city is allowed to issue bonds to pay for some redevelopment, intended to spark the interest of private developers.

The city plans to apply for a Georgia Department of Transportation grant to begin beautifying Watson Boulevard, which could take some pressure off funds generated through the TAD, said former city development director Jesse Fountain.

“Any source of revenue we can access and put into the redevelopment, the better,” said Fountain, who consults on city development projects. “The sooner you can pay off your TAD debt, the quicker taxes go back to the city, county and school board.”

The streetscaping of Watson Boulevard is one of three initiatives in the TAD plan. It is intended to draw business owners to Commercial Circle and developers to build a combined hotel and conference center -- or another large project -- next to City Hall.

“Everybody wants to build on a much nicer-looking street than an ugly one,” Fountain said.

The plan for improvements along Watson, drafted with the help of the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, was given to the Redevelopment Agency board at its Monday meeting. It calls for fewer driveways, more sidewalk access, benches and trees to line the street.

“The reason people don’t walk (there) is because they don’t have anywhere to walk,” said Gary Lee, executive director of the Redevelopment Agency.

Fountain said the city could get anywhere from $500,000 to $750,000 through the state transportation grant or more if the state allows. The city would most likely have to match those funds, which could be done with $1.5 million earmarked in the 2012 special purpose local option sales tax.

Though no firm estimates have been determined for the Watson Boulevard improvements, the Redevelopment Plan drafted for the TAD estimates it could cost $4.5 million.

“You couldn’t do everything that needs to be done” with the SPLOST funds, Fountain said. “That’s just a drop in the bucket.”

Fountain said all of the working pieces -- the SPLOST, TAD and possible grant -- are finally coming together for an idea conceived more than a decade ago.

He said former Mayor Donald Walker and City Council initially thought about revitalizing Watson Boulevard in a three-day session years ago. Over the years, the idea has stuck around, but funding possibilities hadn’t been determined.

“I’m very optimistic for the first time in my 35 years working around here,” Fountain said. “We’re at the right place at the right time with the right things.”

To contact writer Christina M. Wright, call 256-9685.

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