New tax district put on hold — for now

chwright@macon.comDecember 18, 2012 

WARNER ROBINS -- After failing to win support from Houston County and the school board, the city has halted its efforts to establish its first tax allocation district this year.

“We’re just waiting to do this next year, and then bring ... all government entities up to speed and meet with them and talk ... them through the whole process and move from there,” said Gary Lee, director of the Redevelopment Agency.

Plans for the special tax district started to fall apart last week when the Houston County Board of Education rejected the proposal. Board members said they didn’t have enough time to review it.

Lee admitted that communication was lacking, and that he learned a lesson.

“While the process was going on, we could have been talking with them ... along the way,” Lee said. “And we just learned something from that ­-- to not do that again.”

The city proposed placing a tax allocation district, or TAD, along Watson Boulevard between Commercial Circle and Ga. 247. Paperwork needed to be presented to the state Revenue Department by Dec. 31 to create the district for 2013.

The TAD would allow the city to use increased city, county and school property taxes within the district for redevelopment costs. It’s a common tool around the state used to help draw developers to blighted areas.

Experts have said the district wouldn’t be viable with just the city’s increased property taxes, meaning that the school board and county are needed for the project.

Last week -- the day after City Council approved the district -- the school board voted unanimously against the idea.

Board members balked at the city’s officially presenting the idea at the board’s final work session of the year and expecting a vote the next day, at its last regular meeting of the year.

“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 at the time of the vote.

The county was set to vote on the measure Tuesday but decided not to.

“Not taking action doesn’t mean we disapprove, but we might want to scrub the process a little more,” Chairman Tommy Stalnaker said.

Lee presented the TAD idea to his board last year and to City Council for the first time in February.

He said this week that all of the city’s ducks weren’t in order until recently, which is why the county and school board hadn’t been presented the idea.

The redevelopment plan required to create the district wasn’t finished until October, Lee said, and meeting times quickly approached. “With a politician, no one wants to be left out and then asked a question,” Lee said. “That puts them in an awkward position, and that’s not something that we want to do.”

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