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Development Authority, BOC discuss funding in group meeting
Authority called countys periscope into the future
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Development Authority of Dawson County Executive Director Charlie Auvermann presents the board of commissioners with budget requests for the fiscal year 2018. - photo by Allie Dean Dawson County News

Retail space update

Auvermann gave commissioners an update on vacant retail space along the Ga. 400 corridor during the joint meeting June 21.

Old Kroger building:
According to Auvermann, the authority, along with real estate group Monarch, which owns the building, they have not yet been able to find a tenant that wanted to take the entire 74,000 square feet of the building.

The authority has however received letters of intent from two separate entities for parts of the building. One for 25,000 square feet of the old grocery store, and one for 10,000 feet. Once a third entity submits a letter of intent, that will trigger all entities to take action, Auvermann said.

Kroger is contractually obligated not only to help search for a new tenant but also to comply with any refurbishment that the new tenants request, such as firewalls.

A separate real estate agent continues to market the smaller buildings in the shopping center.

Old Ryan's:
The former Ryan's building, located at 122 Big Horn Dr., has been vacant for several years due to bankruptcy. According to Auvermann, there have been several entities interested in the building, but because it is involved in a bankruptcy case, attorneys aren't able to negotiate.

Old Kentucky Fried Chicken:
According to Auverman, the former Kentucky Fried Chicken building, located at 200 North 400 Center Lane, has been sold to Patel KFC, a group he said intends to put a restaurant there. No activity at the building has occurred yet.

 

"I've been on this board for five years, and I don't remember us ever doing this," said Sherry Weeks, chair of the Development Authority of Dawson County board of directors, as she opened a joint meeting with the county board of commissioners earlier this month.

All five commissioners as well as six of the seven development authority members met at the government center June 21 to discuss what commission Chair Billy Thurmond called "issues" that the two groups have been struggling with since the authority issued a tax exemption to Kroger in December 2015 for the new marketplace location.

With some commissioners still upset that the authority did not consult with the board before approving the bond, the commission voted Nov. 15 to deny the authority funds for the 2017 fiscal year and removed the recommended $150,000 from its budget.

Nearly eight months later, the authority has come up with no way to bridge the gap that would not require county assistance, leaving them wondering if they can continue operations next year.

What District 1 Commissioner Sharon Fausett called the "elephant in the room," funding was the main topic of the public discussion between the commission and the authority.

"What steps were taken during that time to become self-sufficient, to become self-supporting?" Fausett asked. "Because a lot of counties do not put any money into the development authority."

Authority board member Mike Ball said that Weeks had initiated a study of the resources of surrounding development authorities, and that the authority currently doesn't have access to any of them.

"Either land was donated to the development authority and through selling that land they generated the funds, or there was a county-owned business park and the development authority would have a fee for every company they brought into the business park," Ball said. "Or it's straight out of the county budget, or they get a piece of SPLOST, or in some of the counties the employees of the development authority are county employees and on the county payroll."

Brian Sticker, newly appointed to the authority, said that he couldn't argue that self-sufficiency was a goal, but at the same time said the authority couldn't be asked to do what the county wants it to do without help.

"At the end of the day the thing that the development authority tries to achieve is income for the county," Sticker said. "When we feel like we have a success, it is when the county benefits. But to me that's the difference- even when we start meeting your goals and your objectives and working together and we're a well-oiled machine, we're not going to benefit, we're not going to get paid from it and I guess that I think is the disconnect."

Weeks too emphasized the need for funding to continue operations and help bring desired businesses to the commercial area of the county.

"We just want the board to be funded so that we can do these activities because if we don't have the money for these activities we can't even run a website," Weeks said.

District 2 Commissioner Chris Gaines said that perhaps if the board of commissioners were more aware of the authority's successes, it might place more value on its operations.

"Maybe we can find a way there has been successes and better define what those successes have been and be able to celebrate those together," Gaines said. "This board might not be aware of the impact that some of the activity that ya'll have done...activity breeds activity and breeds success."

A little over an hour long, the meeting ended without any real resolution, but Thurmond said he hoped it would be the first of many open discussions between the two groups.

Charlie Auvermann, executive director of the development authority, presented a request for funding for the 2018 fiscal year at Monday's county budget hearing.

He asked for $150,000.

Auvermann explained that the authority has reduced costs in marketing and memberships and other areas, but focused mainly on what the authority has, and is, providing the county.

Auvermann presented the estimated tax revenue from what the development authority has accomplished, including the new Kroger Marketplace. The projection, he said, for 2017 and 2018 shows $6.6 million to $7 million in increased tax revenue.

Auvermann asked the commission to think about what they want for the next 10 years, and called the development authority their "periscope into the future."

"I love this county," Auvermann said. "I've had property here since 1984....I had my kid go all the way through school here pretty much...I like that I can drive five minutes out into the country, go to Burt's Pumpkin Farm. I don't want to see that stuff go away either.

"I am not leaving here because I believe in this place and I think we have an opportunity and I think the development authority has helped position you guys so that you can try to the best of your ability to do something about preserving the future."