County ponders economic development projects

School board cautionary on revenue source

SUWANEE - Gwinnett could make its first offer of tax incentives to draw businesses by the end of the month, but school officials asked the county to be cautious because of the potential impact on revenues.

Alfie Meek, director of the county's economic analysis division, briefed school board members and county commissioners Thursday about the program.

He said the county is in serious talks with two businesses, which could bring 160 high-paying jobs to the suburban county.

Thursday's session was a twice annual meeting of the governing boards in which mutual efforts such as community schools are discussed.

Both boards have been concerned about a growing economic trend where residential growth has surpassed business growth.

"There has never been a better time for us to think out of the box," said board member Louise Radloff. "I think we've got to be very diligent in terms of watching the economic future. We cannot really even take our eyes off it."

Because it costs less to service businesses than homeowners, balancing budgets becomes harder when the tax digest tips toward the residential side.

To draw more businesses, the county commission gave Meek the authority to offer incentives such as tax breaks and speeding up the zoning process.

Meek said he understood the tax breaks could bring an immediate problem to the revenue stream even though it would lead to higher revenues in the future, but he said the two projects, worth $400 million in capital investments and salaries one-and-a-half times the county average, could be worth it.

"It would help us for years to come," he said.

School board Chairman Robert McClure said the school board is especially sensitive to tax breaks because of recent declines in state spending.

"Our pie chart is pretty simple: federal, state and local revenues. You have a lot more options for revenues than we do," he said.

But Meek promised the incentives were being held for "silver bullet" projects.

He declined to give any specifics about the project, adding that he is dealing with the companies in code names and no paperwork has been turned in.

District 2 Commissioner Bert Nasuti said he knew of talks about redeveloping the OFS BrightWave property off Interstate 85 and Jimmy Carter Boulevard, but Meek would not confirm that is the location of either project.

Dan Seckinger, another school board member, said the "jury's out" on the plan.

"It's difficult to stand up as a school board member and endorse something that could potentially have a huge impact on our revenues," he said.

At the meeting, the planners of the Gwinnett Environmental and Heritage Center - a classroom and recreation facility sponsored by both organizations - unveiled the center's mascot, a giant ant called GwinnAnt.