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Kelly Girtz, mayor of Athens, Georgia, takes notes at the Athens Mayor and Commission meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2019. (Photo/Jason Born)

The Athens-Clarke County Mayor and Commission agreed to delay voting on a $400 million dollar plan to create two tax allocation districts until Spring 2020 at an Oct. 29 special called session.

The two TADs would have surrounded the Newton Bridge Road area and the “Downtown River District,” funneling property taxes that would normally go toward ACC and the Clarke County Board of Education property back into those two areas for redevelopment purposes over the next 20 years

The meeting was scheduled to allow for community input on the plans, but only a handful of citizens attended, one of whom spoke to the Mayor and Commission. Daniel McRae of Seyfarth Shaw LLP discussed TADs at a March 20 work session, and the first public hearing for the redevelopment plans were held at the Oct. 22 special called session.

“I certainly think there needs to be more public transparency in all of this,” said District 10 Commissioner Mike Hamby. “One person has gotten up and made some good points. One person has gotten up and spoke, and we’re spending 400 million dollars.”

Commissioners found the plans — which the county paid a law firm $82,000 to create, according to Hamby — vague and incomplete and didn’t feel comfortable voting for them on the originally scheduled date of Nov. 5. In response, the mayor delayed the vote for next year.

“Given the number of questions, what I don’t want to do is pressure a near term vote when there are a lot of open questions,” Mayor Kelly Girtz said after the public hearing session. “Some questions are honestly going to require some level of work and study.”

Just like at last week’s Oct. 22 meeting, Hamby — though not opposed to TADs — was critical of the report.

“I’m glad we’re having this discussion, I wish it would have happened before we spent $82,000 on getting to the point where we’re at now,” Hamby said. “I can think of a lot of things we could spend $82,000 on.”

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Athens-Clarke County District 10 Commissioner Mike Hamby criticized the price tag of plans for two tax allocation districts in Athens during the Oct. 29 special called ACC Mayor and Commission meeting. ACC paid a law firm $82,000 to create the plans. (Photo/Jason Born)

What’s a TAD?

A tax allocation district is an area from which the government withholds property taxes and funnels them back into the area for redevelopment.

TADs spark new investment and public improvements that increase the taxable property values in that area, said Girtz, who described the TADs as “a spark that lights a fire.”

“While lots of areas of town would benefit from some redevelopment, what you need is some catalytic investment that is then going to create the magnetism for future investment,” Girtz said.

The County Manager’s Office contracted an attorney with Seyfarth Shaw LLP to create a TAD around the “Downtown River District,” the northeast area of the downtown area and the area along North Avenue. The second TAD is for the area surrounding Newton Bridge Road.

For future consideration

Several commissioners voiced their concerns over the TADs and advocated for changes to be made to the TAD plans before the issue is re-tabled in Spring 2020.

“We have not talked, as a collective body, to the school board,” District 9 Commissioner Ovita Thornton said. “And I’m really uncomfortable with that. If they are a major factor, they should have input.”

Commissioners also expressed concerns over the locations of the TADs, with District 5 Commissioner Tim Denson saying the Commission should “step back and assess the needs of the entire county.”

“I want us to have a much broader conversation amongst the Commission about where these TADs should be,” District 8 Commissioner Andy Herod said.

Denson expressed concerns about TADs growing and taking up more of the tax digest over time, barring the commission from being able to create future TADs.

Under Georgia’s Redevelopment Powers Law, TADs can only take up 10% of the community's tax digest — the current plans would take up 5%, according to Denson.

“It makes it seem even more important to me that we get it right the first time because we are going to have very limited chances to build off that,” Denson said.

Like the majority of commissioners, Thornton is in favor of implementing TADs but wants to better understand them and see more detail in the future.

“Nobody’s district right now is in more need of a TAD than District 9 and District 2, and maybe District 1,” Thornton said. “This is a big deal, this should have been a little more in-depth. I don’t understand TADs, so I know the average citizen doesn’t.”

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