Development Authority of Dawson County Board Cchairman Brian Trapnell presented his final update of the year to the Dawson County Board of Commissioners on Dec. 20, giving commissioners a breakdown of the progress the development authority has made in the past year, including a new partnership with the Dawson County Chamber of Commerce.
When the staff of the development authority quit in September of 2017 due to the board of commissioners' refusal to allocate the authority any funds for 2018, the authority entered into a short-term contract for services with the chamber of commerce.
In February 2018 the board of commissioners voted to allocate $135,000 to the authority so that it could continue to operate for the remainder of the year.
In May the authority and the chamber entered into a multi-year agreement and created a new economic development director position to work under the supervision of chamber President Christie Moore.
Betsy McGriff was hired to fill the economic development director position in July while the chamber and authority worked to renovate the chamber building to accommodate both entities.
The development authority moved into the chamber building in September, the latest step the authority has taken to become more efficient through better coordinating and planning of quality growth in the county.
“In short, the multi-year partnership with the chamber of commerce is one where they serve as our representative for economic development,” Trapnell said.
Kroger bond project
Trapnell also updated the board on the current status of the authority’s bond project with the local Kroger.
The bond was ratified in 2015 and gave the company some tax relief for building and moving into the new Marketplace store in Dawson County as opposed to going elsewhere, which was a fear of the authority at the time.
The authority agreed to provide private bonds for title in the amount of $23 million at Kroger’s request, which means that the property is actually owned by the authority and exempt from property taxes.
The nature of the transaction is payments in lieu of taxes, meaning the county and school system will still receive payments as if they were actually property taxes, just through the authority instead of Kroger.
Conditions of the bond meant Kroger must maintain its old store, remove the gas island and aid in finding a new tenant for the building, as well as meet a series of annual job and investment criteria.
Trapnell did not have a recent report from the store, but shared information from the Dec. 31, 2017 report.
“As of Dec. 31, 2017, Kroger has fulfilled 25 additional full time equivalent jobs than actually required in the bond project,” he said. “I can only imagine we will get our update from them shortly how much more they’ve achieved since that time in hiring more (full-time equivalent workers).”
Kroger also continues to pay for the old store location through a lease agreement and their average hourly wage is 5 percent greater than the average hourly retail wage in Dawson County and 7.2 percent greater than the average hourly retail wage throughout the state of Georgia.
2017 was the first year of the project, and the store paid zero property tax. In the second year, 2018, the store is supposed to start paying a percentage of the tax through the development authority, with the amount increasing each year.
“The development authority receives $1,500 in administrative fees...we’re grateful for it, but that doesn’t really begin to cover some of the operational impact there,” Trapnell said.”We have issued an invoice for the second year directly to Kroger...very shortly we expect to start seeing that payment.”
Completed and planned goals
Trapnell also addressed goals that the authority has had that are nearly completed or that the authority wishes to complete within the next year.
Trapnell said that the authority will be signing documents to sell its old office space in Prominence Court on Dec. 31. The $115,000 in funds from the sale will be used for future economic development.
“The broad intent is to make sure those are in pocket for any kind of development opportunities that come up down the road, not necessarily for operations purposes,” he said.
The authority board also recently revised its bylaws, which will become effective Jan. 1.
One of the updates will enhance the ability of the authority board to delegate services to the chamber as needed, while another update changes the meeting schedule from six meetings a year to four.
Trapnell also presented the authority board’s communication plan, stating that the board is committed to transparency and making sure they are always effectively communicating with the board of commissioners.
Trapnell said that by the end of 2019, the authority board plans to ensure that its strategic plan is aligned with community needs and expectations, as well as complete a site selection study and a study that evaluates funding options for economic development operations, as well as opportunities for efficiency between the development authority and the industrial building authority.
The site selection study would identify community investment opportunities for generating primary jobs.
“Retail jobs of course are very important...but also planning ways to maybe generate whether it be office space, manufacturing opportunities, etc., partnering with a third party to help us locate space and sites to do that,” he said.
Finding creative ways for the development authority to fund itself has been a priority of the authority for some time, and Trapnell said minimizing dependence on the board of commissioners is the goal.
Trapnell also said there is a lot of overlap in what the development authority and industrial building authority do, so seeking efficiencies moving forward will be key.
“This is a team sport, we all know that, and so we are very passionate about making sure that if there is something that we can be doing together, we are doing it together,” he said.