The News-Times' Sunday, March 20 editorial, "Citizens pay tab for apartment subsidies," leads one to think our Columbia County Development Authority solicits bond proposals from apartment developers and gives a rubber stamp of approval for a fee. That is simply not true.
The primary mission of the Development Authority is recruitment of new businesses and retention and expansion of existing businesses to create good-paying jobs for our citizens and grow the tax base to relieve our homeowners' burden of paying for the governmental and educational services provided in the county.
Leads on businesses interested in the county come from many sources, including the Georgia Department of Economic Development and local businesses. Our staff contacts the company and supplies information and encourages them to visit our county. The Authority has a presence at trade shows, makes "cold calls" on businesses, and hosts visits by the professionals involved in business and industry expansion and relocation.
We have a paid professional staff of three, a volunteer board of nine, the support and assistance of the employees of the county and a lot of help from our business community.
One hears a lot about incentives being offered to new or expanding businesses. Columbia County is looking to add to our tax revenue stream, not take away from it. So we do not spend a lot of time on companies whose main interest is financial assistance.
Should a prospect need to borrow money for a project, the Authority can offer it the ability to have its interest payments be tax exempt, allowing a more favorable rate. Neither the county nor the Authority assume any risk, but merely facilitate the interest savings.
State law authorizes the Authority to provide such tax-exempt financing for apartment projects in the county. To obtain the tax-exempt loan, federal law requires the apartment owner to rent a certain number of units in the complex to people whose income is not more than a certain percentage of the median income in the county. These individuals do not get rent "subsidies," but pay market rent for the units. The fees received by the Authority help pay its operating costs and reduce the burden on taxpayers.
The Authority has received only two requests to consider issuing tax-exempt bonds for the development of an apartment complex. The first financed Westwood Club Apartments on Washington Road, a high-quality, attractive complex with 192 units. A one-bedroom apartment rents for $520 a month. Of the 192 units, 10 are rented to families participating in the Section 8 Program where the federal government pays a portion of the rent.
The Authority has nothing to do with the Section 8 Program, and participating in the Program is not a condition of getting the tax-exempt loan. Any landlord can apply to participate in the Section 8 Program. Westwood Club has on-site security, occupancy limits per unit size, stringent conduct guidelines and indicate a strong desire to work with law enforcement to address any areas of concern.
The second project, which did not materialize, would have been in Grovetown. With Fort Gordon close by and the impending actions of BRAC, clean, safe, affordable housing would have been a plus. Also, the then current use of the proposed site was a problem. The new apartments would have cleaned up and greatly improved the area. Elected officials of Grovetown very much wanted this to happen.
The News-Times supported the project in an editorial on Dec. 20, 2003, entitled "Mixed blessing, but mostly blessings" stating, "the construction of virtually anything on the blighted Grovetown site is an improvement ... and getting the site cleaned up is a bonus."
The income limit for a family of four to rent a unit is $32,040. This allows inclusion of many men and women who keep our nation and our streets safe, fight our fires, educate our children and preserve our health. They should have the ability to find available safe, sanitary and affordable housing in our community. Apartment complexes such as Westwood Club meet that need. A few bad actors in a complex should be dealt with, but the many hardworking, upstanding residents in such a complex should not be denied this type of housing as a consequence.
Those of us involved in the economic well-being and development of our county are committed to doing all that it takes to make this the best place to live and work in the best country in the world.
(Bill Coleman is chairman of the board of the Columbia County Development Authority.)
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.