In the upcoming June 19 election, voters will have the opportunity to vote not only for their next congressman and state senator, but also for authorizing Columbia County to exercise redevelopment powers.
I can hear you now, "What in the world is that?" "Why does that matter to me?" Please don't stop reading - stick with me a moment.
Georgia has a law known as the Redevelopment Powers Law (the "Act"). There are 47 other states with similar laws. The purpose is to authorize counties, in their unincorporated areas, to establish Redevelopment Areas within which the designated redevelopment powers may be exercised. The County Commission, after a public hearing, must determine that the specified geographic area meets the criteria set out in the Act before it can create the Redevelopment Area.
The list of redevelopment powers is extensive, and generally involves improvements to infrastructure, environmental conditions and/or buildings. These activities are undertaken by the County to entice developers to undertake new development or redevelopment in the Redevelopment Area.
To pay for these improvements, the County Commission establishes a Tax Allocation District ("TAD") made up of specific tracts of land in the Redevelopment Area designated for development or redevelopment.
Don't panic at that word "tax." Keep reading. This does not create any new tax or increase taxes on property owners in Columbia County. The plan here is that the improvements on the land in the TAD increase its value, and this increase in value results in the owners of the land in the TAD paying increased ad valorem taxes.
At the time a TAD is created, the assessed value of the land in it is determined and the taxes on that assessed value (the "Base Amount") continue to flow to the county's general fund to be used as it always has been. As the property increases in value with the construction of the stores, shopping centers, other commercial facilities, entertainment venues and residential structures, the increase in ad valorem taxes over the Base Amount (which is the "Positive Increment") is used to pay the cost of the improvements made by the county.
When this cost has been paid, the TAD is terminated and all ad valorem taxes thereafter go to the county's general fund. If you have followed this, you can see that the cost of the improvements in the TAD are ultimately paid by the developer as it pays the taxes on the property in the future years. If you have made it through this tax part, keep reading; you are over the hard stuff.
The Positive Increment in ad valorem taxes collected by the Board of Education in a TAD can only be used to pay for the cost of the improvements constructed in the TAD with the agreement of the Board of Education. The Base Amount in Board of Education taxes continues to flow to the Board of Education to be used to pay its expenses just as it has in the past.
Now, for the good part. The commercial facilities which are built within the TAD will generate additional sales taxes which are paid to the county and to the Board of Education to finance their facilities and carry out other functions. This results in lessening the ad valorem tax burden on property owners in the county. In addition, the new businesses created will generate jobs and help stimulate the county's economy.
The ability of Columbia County to exercise redevelopment powers under the Act is another tool in its toolbox to help stimulate the redevelopment or development of certain areas in the county and attract beneficial land uses to these areas. The county's involvement in this way can also help the county to control and guide the development so as to provide an overall benefit to the county.
The Act requires that before the county can exercise these redevelopment powers, the voters in the County must approve it. So on June 19, you may vote "yes" or "no" on the question, "Shall the Act be approved which authorizes Columbia County to exercise redevelopment powers under the "Redevelopment Powers Law," as it may be amended from time to time?"
I hope based on the information provided, you will vote "yes." To those of you who have made it to the end of this piece, thank you for your perseverance.
(Doug Batchelor is county attorney for Columbia County.)
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