Leaders eye funding for revitalization

City officials aim for second chance at tax allocation districts

LAWRENCEVILLE - Revitalization leaders want a second chance at the funding mechanism that created Atlantic Station. But just two months after the measure failed at the ballot box, county commissioners aren't sure if the expense of a special election is worth it.

While legislators are waiting for word from the county, cities are stepping in line for their own referendums on tax allocation districts.

"We see that as a great opportunity as we invest in that area," Suwanee Mayor Nick Masino said, explaining that his city has been working on revitalizing the Interstate 85 corridor. "We want to stop the decay before it gets any worse."

Masino, who heads the legislative committee for the Gwinnett Municipal Association, said the cities of Snellville, Duluth, Lawrence-ville, Buford, Dacula, Norcross, Sugar Hill, Lilburn and Loganville have joined with his own city to call for a November election on the method.

Masino said officials in Grayson and Berkeley Lake support the countywide effort but did not seek TAD legislation themselves.

Tax allocation districts would allow the government to earmark for infrastructure improvements an expected increase in tax revenues due to increased property values from revitalization. The funding mechanism was used for the revitalization of downtown Marietta as well as the popular Atlantic Station.

The Legislature approved a referendum for Gwinnett last year, but cities were not included. The local officials were already planning to ask for their own measures when voters rejected the county referendum by a vote of 68,031 to 71,336, or 48.8 percent to 51.2 percent.

Masino said he expects the vote to go better with the support of cities, especially since the addition of cities in the county sales tax led to greater voter support.

"It's needed desperately in areas," he said. "The cities have a great record of improving their downtowns. We're the poster children for redevelopment, and that's what a TAD is all about."

Commissioners are hoping the measure passes, but they have not decided whether to wait until the 2008 election or to call a special election for this November. A special election could cost $250,000 to $300,000, County Administrator Jock Connell said.

"I think TADs are still in the future for Gwinnett County," Commissioner Lorraine Green said. "When you talk about revitalization, there (is) major infrastructure that needs to be addressed. We need to have all the tools available to us."

Chuck Warbington, the director of the Gwinnett Village Community Improvement District, said a study revealed a TAD could provide a node at I-85 and Jimmy Carter Boulevard with $40 million.

"That's $40 million infused into a blighted area," he said, adding that leaders of all three of Gwinnett's CIDs are pushing for a November vote.

"The longer we wait, the longer time until we see revitalization."