OPINION — On August 1, the City Council in Peachtree City will be discussing some automatic incentive giveaways to attract economic development projects to the city. The financial incentives are proposed to be dispensed by the Fayette County Development Authority (FCDA) at their discretion.
The agreement is an incentive threshold for FCDA, but they would still be able to come for more incentives from the city government if they felt it was necessary.
What’s in the proposal?
Incentive options for council discussion include expediting the permitting review process (value approximately $25,000).
There is also a 50-percent reduction in fees for developments of regional impact (DRI). These require a project over 500,000 square feet which calls for the company to file a DRI document with the Atlanta Regional Commission and a traffic study, or for developments involving an investment of minimum $100 Million and adding a minimum of 25 jobs at $50,000 per year. The fees for reduction include the tree fund fee and impact fees (refer to Sec. 307 of the Peachtree City Municipal Ordinances).
They are also looking at reinstating the Peachtree City Jobs and Investment Grant Program, up to a maximum of $50,000 per project. The city council would look to FCDA to administer this program on the city’s behalf.
Accountability and efficient use of taxpayer dollars?
As someone who follows economic development in the region, is certified in economic development, and has participated in large economic development projects locally, it is paramount that there be a solid communication channel and rules for accountability.
The former Peachtree City Development Authority turned into a den of corruption, embarrassed the city, and was eventually disbanded by the city council. There were many lessons to be learned of how not to run a development authority, and we should always keep those in mind.
There have also been past issues with the FCDA leading to resignations. Keep in mind that the county government, city and town governments, and the board of education do not have the authority to dictate or modify the terms on tax abatements issued by the FCDA.
The right of refusal from the city on issuing the proposed automatic incentives was not listed as an option in the city council’s agenda package.
Serious metrics are required to evaluate the worth of a prospective company to the city and county. Moreover, not paying more in incentives than the company is worth and ensuring the longevity of the company’s presence is crucial.
All incentives should be clearly explained to the taxpayers following their implementation. The elected officials and FCDA members should listen to all feedback and respond accordingly.
What are their economic values?
As an affluent community, Fayette County can afford to be selective. We can attract corporate headquarters and high-end manufacturing.
Huge manufacturing facilities like the Hyundai plant near Columbus would be a bad fit. We do not have a large enough parcel of real estate and the traffic and logistics associated with such a facility would overwhelm us.
We also exclude pursuing facilities using hazardous chemicals, most of the time. Peachtree City had two facilities, Photocircuits and Georgia-Pacific Resins, that raised serious hazardous material concerns, both were eventually pressured out of the area.
When local elected officials fail us
A community cannot attract corporations and high paying jobs if there is no land available for them to build a facility. Unfortunately, Peachtree City took prime corporate real estate and rezoned it to residential. The first significant example was Planterra Ridge.
More recently, the city council has annexed and zoned a lot of prime land for corporate headquarters and light industrial to residential and retail instead.
The sizable stretch of land along MacDuff Parkway was also annexed and zoned to residential, a huge mistake.
The problem of no large parcels of land for corporations is so dire that even our existing local corporations wanting to expand have almost no options in Peachtree City.
The past Fleisch administration forfeited numerous opportunities to preserve the conditions for continued growth of our corporate and industrial sector, favoring nonstop burdensome residential development instead.
As chairman of the county’s board of commissioners, I worked with then-mayor Greg Clifton of Fayetteville to revise the massive plan for residential zoning planned in the middle of the county on Highway 54 to corporate and industrial, attracting some of the largest, award-winning, and most lucrative economic developments in the county’s history. It was needed because Peachtree City had squandered their chances to acquire those opportunities due to a lack of suitable sites.
The bottom line
We need an official policy from the Fayette County Development Authority and the local governments on what constitutes a reasonable investment with the use of tax abatements.
Tax abatements for retail outlets and lodging without conference capacity, providing low paying jobs should be prohibited.
Traditionally, our standard tax abatement package for eligible businesses in Fayette County has been a 10-year program, and any program beyond 10 years should have to meet a much higher criteria that demonstrates elevated job and wage growth as well as positive tax benefits in future years.
The City Council of Peachtree City created significant problems, restricting future corporate growth by piling on dense residential development instead of protecting those sites for revenue-rich corporate development, increasing demand for expanding city services and continuous tax increases from local homeowners. It’s not rocket science, and actions have consequences.
The city’s continual annexations and zoning for dense residential development makes no sense. They moved forward with no real strategy, operating by the seat of their pants, one annexation proposal at a time, content to forego more revenue rich alternatives for prime real estate, and being comfortable raising taxes on homeowners year-after-year.
[Brown is a former mayor of Peachtree City and served two terms on the Fayette County Board of Commissioners. You can read all his columns by clicking on his photo below.]