Houston & Peach

Perry proposes voluntary tax district, but business owners wary

 

PERRY — For years, money has been a stumbling block for the city’s plans to spruce up a gateway boulevard into its downtown area. However, city officials hope revitalization efforts finally can start as soon as next year.

But first, city officials will have to convince a group of business owners to pay more taxes.

The project would happen if a certain portion of the commercial property owners in a designated tax district agree to higher taxes to help pay for the improvements.

After recently presenting the idea for a Community Improvement District to the Perry City Council, Robert Smith, the city’s director of economic development, sent a letter to commercial property owners along a 122-parcel stretch of General Courtney Hodges Boulevard. They were invited to a meeting later this month to discuss the concept.

“(The CID) would be an independent governmental entity. ... Business owners (and) the commercial property owners can come together and make the decision to or to not create the CID and tax themselves to fund improvements in the district,” Smith said. “Ultimately, this is a partnership.”

The extra property tax would help pay for improved aesthetics, more signs and walkability improvements, like those included in the city’s 2013 strategic plan.

According to that plan, “cleaning up and beautifying Courtney Hodges Boulevard would significantly change the visual perception of the main corridor leading downtown from the Georgia National Fairgrounds.”

Smith said the city and property owners want to see improvements, “but neither have the money to do it -- at least to do it right now.” The public-private partnership would allow money to be leveraged and projects to be completed in a timely manner, Smith said.

“I would envision something where if the CID raises $50,000 for sidewalk improvements, then the city could come in and say, ‘Well, this is something that benefits the public good. We’re going to match that funding by $50,000 to make sure this $100,000 project is completed,’” Smith said.

To create the CID, at least 51 percent of property owners who make up at least 75 percent of the total taxable value of the district would have to agree to the extra tax, Smith said. After that, the city would approve the districts and set its boundaries. Next, The General Assembly must pass a local act authorizing the CID’s creation.

After that, a board made up of commercial property owners and one elected city official would operate the CID by setting the millage rate, deciding on projects and ensuring projects are completed.

Smith said he met with property owners individually and got “mixed reactions.”

“A lot of them, when you come out talking about a possible tax above what they’re already paying, they can get kind of defensive, understandably so,” Smith said. “But I think once you are able to explain what a CID is and ... educate them, they become more open minded to the possibilities of creating one.”

PUBLIC BUSINESS, PRIVATE BUSINESS

Marty Myers, who’s in the general contracting business, owns a couple of acres within the proposed district where City Supply and Rainbow Mini Storage are now operating.

“I’m just against it for so many different reasons that it would be hard to stop once I get started,” Myers said. “I don’t think that one area should be singled out, as they have to pay for the improvements that are really public right of way type improvements, when no other area in town has ever had to do that. Sam Nunn Boulevard is the nicest area in Perry, and none of those businesses have ever forked over a dime other than their normal taxes to pay for that.”

Myers, who has owned property on the road since the 1990s, said he doesn’t think aesthetic improvements will help businesses along the road because many of the existing shops are service-oriented such as the tire store, heating and air business and veterinary office.

Though Smith assured him otherwise, Myers said he’s concerned about how much control the property owners would have, given that the street is designated as a state and federal highway.

“I’ve had my own business in Perry for 40 years, and I’ve seen it go from a very business friendly environment (to), in the past two or three years ... just excruciatingly hard to do business in,” Myers said.

Tony Ellerbee’s business, Image Tag and Label Inc., has been open on the boulevard six years. Ellerbee, a Fort Valley native who leases the store space, said he’s heard little about the proposed CID.

“I’m not sure how it will affect us as renters,” he said. “I don’t really care (about improvements). It looks fine the way it is to me. ... I do think Perry could do a little more to promote business, but I’m not sure this taxation is the method I would use to do it.”

Ellerbee, who also bemoaned the city’s sign ordinance, fears more tax on property owners would be passed along to businesses through a rent increase.

Myers thinks it is “short-sighted to think that property owners are going to tax themselves. ... I would be surprised if they got five people to vote for it,” he said.

Smith said he wants to get property owners involved in community meetings and hearings before asking them to take a stance on a formal petition.

“No one has said yes at this point. I think it’s kind of a wait-and-see thing,” Smith said. “It seems like all the businesses I’ve spoken with are keeping an open mind with regards to being in the CID, which is positive. I think as we work with them and get something developed that can benefit them, they’ll be more and more willing to buy in.”

To contact writer Laura Corley, call 744-4334 or follow her on Twitter @Lauraecor.

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