School system attorney Clem Doyle, in a letter to developers of the Riverwalk mixed-use project, seems to suggest that the school system should have a say in whether tax incentives are offered to businesses.
And some school board members are eager to see a process put in place that would give the school board a seat at the table earlier in any discussions about tax breaks for businesses.
In his letter, Doyle suggested the county should develop and approve a new tax abatement policy.
That policy “should include a process that incorporates a reasonable and objective analysis of the costs (including the abatement) and benefits of each future project,” Doyle wrote.
The policy should take into account the number of jobs created, average wage, value of the property, sales tax generated, any increase in county services required and the environmental impact.
But Commissioner Helen Goreham, who represents northwest Cobb, said she isn’t sure that’s a policy that needs to be in the hands of the county’s elected leaders.
Though the Cobb Board of Commissioners appoints members to the Development Authority and approves some of its projects, the Authority is ultimately an autonomous body that was created by an act of the Georgia General Assembly.
“It’s my understanding that authorities are created to remove the politics,” said Goreham, whose appointee, Clark Hungerford, chairs the Development Authority board.
She said the issue needs to be solved without the help of the county commission.
“Right now the way it stands and the issue at hand, it appears to me that it’s an issue between the school board, the Development Authority and the Legislature,” Goreham said.
Ott wants reform
Commissioner Bob Ott of southeast Cobb has a different view of the issue.
He thinks actions taken by the Development Authority should need county approval, but said commissioners can’t implement that kind of a policy.
That change would have to be made by members of Cobb’s local legislative delegation. Some Cobb lawmakers have suggested they intend to do exactly that, saying they plan to introduce bills that would affect the makeup and oversight of development authorities, including requiring them to be more transparent.
“I do support all the stuff from the Development Authority coming back to the Board of Commissioners because we are the sole taxing authority for the county,” Ott said.
Ott said he does not support the tax break offered to Riverwalk and told his two appointees to the Authority, Karen Hallacy and Donna Rowe, of his stance after the Authority had agreed to the deal.
“I said if it comes to us, I’m not going to vote for it,” Ott said.
Though the Riverwalk development may no longer be on its way to Cumberland, Ott said the 7-acre tract of land likely still has construction in its future.
“There are plenty of other developments in the Cumberland area that are underway that did not get incentives or ask for incentives,” Ott said. “I don’t think it puts a mark on this property that it won’t get developed. I mean, I think with the coming Braves stadium and all that I think it’s a desirable piece of property, I think it’s a great location.”