Fate uncertain for Warner Robins tax district after school board vote

Telegraph staffDecember 11, 2012 

PERRY -- Warner Robins officials say they’re unsure of the next step for a special tax district aimed at redevelopment, after the Houston County Board of Education rejected the plan Tuesday.

“We’re disappointed,” said Gary Lee, executive director of the Warner Robins Redevelopment Agency. “We thought that all government entities would like to work together for a common cause in cleaning up blighted areas in the city of Warner Robins that at the end of the day will be beneficial to us all.”

The school board voted unanimously at its final meeting of year not to join a Warner Robins plan to establish the city’s first tax allocation district, or TAD. The district, which is used to attract private developers, allows cities to use increased property tax revenue to fund development within the defined boundaries. In this case, the TAD would run along Watson Boulevard from Commercial Circle to Ga. 247.

It’s a hit for the city, which wanted to meet the end-of-year deadline to create the TAD for 2013.

“I believe it is a great project. ... It needs to be done,” school board Chairman Tom Walmer said. “However, the board hasn’t been given adequate time or information to make a decision.”

Warner Robins City Council approved the tax allocation district Monday. Although the city could proceed without the school board, experts have said such districts are most viable when the school board and county agree to also give up additional revenue generated from increased property values.

“Typically, the school system’s tax rate is higher than the others,” David Sjoquist, Georgia State University economics professor and public finance researcher, said previously. “Usually, if the school system doesn’t join, then a large part of the revenue (is missing) from what would have been there.”

The city’s millage rate is 9.99 mills. Houston County’s is 9.95. The school system’s is 13.34. A mill represents a tax liability of $1 for every $1,000 of assessed value.

Lee said officials will talk to the Middle Georgia Regional Commission, which helped draft the plan, about options.

“We’re probably going to have to circle our wagons and see where we are,” said Councilman Mike Daley, who attended Tuesday’s school board meeting.

County commissioners are expected to vote on the measure at their next meeting, Dec. 18. They were presented the idea Dec. 4.

The school board was given a presentation Monday at its work session, and board members commented then that they require more time to review a decision that could last several decades -- even though they all agreed the TAD is a good idea.

They questioned why it took so long to present the plan to the board. City officials have kicked around the idea since late last year, and the redevelopment plan the TAD is based on was completed in October.

“I’ve got a serious concern that this stayed in the closet and, in less than 24 hours, was put before us to make a decision,” school board member Skip Dawkins said Tuesday.

Board members also said they were uncomfortable passing a resolution their attorney hadn’t reviewed. Lee and Chan Layson, of the Middle Georgia Regional Commission, agreed Monday night to have a copy sent by Tuesday, but board members said it never was.

Superintendent Robin Hines said he had heard from one community member, who was concerned that the TAD “could run further into the future and be a detriment to taxpayers.”

Walmer said he would like redevelopment officials to come back to the board next year with a redevelopment plan for 2014. Whether that will be necessary depends on whether the city postpones the TAD’s creation.

If the city decides to back off on the TAD this year, it would need to complete the process by Dec. 31, 2013, to have the district established for 2014.

Lee said the city wanted to establish the TAD this year to lock in the current low property values.

In a TAD, property taxes from those values would continue going to the entities who agree to the plan. Any increased property taxes would go into the TAD fund.

“The economy is about to do a lot better,” Lee said. “If we can get it at the bottom, it would be more profitable.”

To contact writer Jenna Mink, call 256-9751. To contact writer Christina M. Wright, call 256-9685.

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