On July 15, Gwinnett voters will decide whether to authorize Gwinnett County "to exercise redevelopment powers under the Redevelopment Powers Law." The law would give Gwinnett County a new tool to revitalize declining and blighted areas, reduce crime and gang activity in the process, and make those areas vibrant parts of our community again through the creation of Tax Allocation Districts, also known as TADs.
To ensure that voters make an informed decision on this issue is to put the myths alongside the true facts.
Myth 1: Taxpayers could get "stuck with the bill."
Fact: The Redevelopment Powers Law protects taxpayers from this occurring by prohibiting any pledge of the general taxing power of the government to a TAD (See O.C.G.A. 36-44-14). The Redevelopment Powers Law states that TAD bonds are not backed by the full faith and credit of the county, only by revenues generated by the TAD itself. If a TAD doesn't generate the projected amount of revenue, the private investors who bought the TAD bonds bear that risk, not the taxpayers.
Therefore, investors buying those bonds demand very conservative and achievable financial projections. That's why no TAD in Georgia has ever failed to meet its revenue projections. Most have exceeded projection. This taxpayer protection is not a matter of opinion; it's a matter of law. The law is clear on this point.
Myth 2: TADs take money away from our schools.
Fact: The Georgia Supreme Court held that the "Educational Purpose Clause" of the Georgia Constitution prohibits any use of school taxes for TADs. Under Georgia law, there is no way a TAD could take money away from schools.
In November, there will be a statewide referendum to decide if the Georgia Constitution should be amended to allow local Boards of Education to vote to dedicate a portion of increased school tax revenue to a TAD. A majority of Georgia voters could vote to approve that amendment.
When a TAD is created, the amount of property taxes paid prior to the creation of the TAD is "locked in." The county government and the school system continue to receive exactly the same amount of property tax revenue after a TAD is created as they did before. Only additional, new tax revenues - the "increment" - that result from increased property values within the TAD can be used to fund a TAD. The increment would not exist if not for the private investment in the redevelopment project itself.
Second, the school system and county are currently losing money as the value of properties in these blighted areas decreases. For example, the OFS property at Jimmy Carter Boulevard and Interstate 85 paid $1,053,991.02 in property taxes in 1991. By 2007, its property tax bill declined to only $466,531.16.
The total amount of property tax revenue lost by the school system in that 16-year period, on that parcel alone, was $4,389,523.00. If we don't revitalize these areas, schools continue to lose tax revenue. County taxpayers will have to make up the difference.
Myth 3: If a TAD is created, property owners in the surrounding area will see higher property tax bills.
Fact: This myth is true. Increasing the value of properties, improving infrastructure and safety in declining and blighted areas is the point of TADs and redevelopment. The residential areas near Jimmy Carter Boulevard, Buford Highway and Pleasant Hill Road used to be safe, attractive places. As nearby commercial properties deteriorated, residential property values also declined, creating conditions that have allowed gangs, crime, graffiti and illegal immigrants to proliferate. The negative effects are obvious.
TADs can be an effective tool in reversing negative trends and increasing property value.
Myth 4: We have no control over how TADs are used.
Fact: Approval of this referendum by the voters July 15 does not create a TAD. Georgia law mandates the process for creating a TAD provides the public with multiple opportunities to review a TAD proposal and provide comment in public hearings. The Board of Commissioners is prohibited by law from voting to create a TAD until the required public notice and public hearings have occurred.
Revitalization of declining parts of the county can significantly reduce crime, provide traffic congestion relief and improve our overall quality of life. TADs can be a powerful tool used to get these areas back on track.
Nick Masino is the executive director of Partnership Gwinnett, economic development director for the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce and former mayor of Suwanee.