A larger than anticipated number of Dawson County voters has taken advantage of the state’s early voting period.
Dawson County Voter Registration Superintendent Glenda Ferguson said close to 2,000 voters have cast ballots since early voting began on Sept. 22. The early voting period continues until Oct. 31.
“We’re at about 12.5 percent right now. We had a rush on a few days with four or five people in line, but everything is going pretty smoothly. Everyone seems to know who they are voting for, and they’re voting pretty quickly,” she said.
While many people know who they plan to vote for president, three proposed amendments to the state constitution will be on the Nov. 4 general election ballot and have many voters scratching their heads.
All three deal with development issues and, as is often typical of proposed amendments, are written in language that makes them difficult for many voters to understand.
“These are all for economic growth,” said Michael Paris, the president and CEO of the Council for Quality Growth. “We are urging everyone to vote for all three.”
Of the three, Amendment 2, which involves tax allocation districts, seems to be drawing the most attention.
“It’s been a part of the redevelopment and revitalization act we’ve had for almost 20 years,” said Heath Garrett, of Georgians for Quality Economic Development, when he spoke to the Dawson County Chamber of Commerce last Thursday.
Tax allocation districts allow local governments to issue bonds to finance infrastructure improvements that they hope will bring new businesses to blighted areas.
In turn, the addition of new businesses is expected to expand the tax digest and therefore increase the property tax revenue collected from the area.
The proposed amendment follows a ruling in February by the Georgia Supreme Court that school tax revenue cannot be used to finance redevelopment through TADs.
Amendment 2 would authorize schools boards to opt into tax allocation districts.
“This is an amendment to correct that technical deficiency in the law that would allow tax allocation districts, which are for redevelopment and revitalization in primarily blighted areas,” Garrett said.
TADs have successfully revived areas across the state to bring in businesses, create jobs and increase property values, Garrett said, noting Atlantic Station changed the skyline for the city of Atlanta with its tax district.
“Cities and counties all over the state of Georgia can use and benefit from these,” Garrett said.
Amendment 3 would create infrastructure development districts, which are also economic tools similar to tax allocation districts.
An infrastructure development district allows local government to pay for the construction and maintenance of new roads, sewers, schools or other infrastructure through bonds and private companies.
“One of the greatest challenges facing our nation, our state and our counties locally, is what are we going to do about out infrastructure, particularly in a community like this where growth is coming,” Garrett said.
“We don’t have enough funding in the nation, in the state and in our locally funding to deal properly with building quality infrastructure on the front end of that growth,” he said.
If approved, districts would be allowed to put together a master plan for the infrastructure the district needs and float bonds at a tax exempt rate that are then paid for by assessments on all the new residents.
“This allows for the growth to pay for itself,” said Garrett.
The main difference is that TADs apply to areas in need of redevelopment, while infrastructure development districts are beneficial for land that has never been developed.
The Georgia Forest Land Protection Act would be authorized by passage of Amendment 1.
“The message of Amendment 1 is really very simple,” said Steve McWilliams of the Georgia Forestry Association. “It is to make sure that as Georgia continues to grow and develop, as our population increases by a third, by, I think 2025, is the prediction, that we continue to be a green state and that we continue to protect the forests in the state that provide so many benefits.”
The purpose of Amendment 1 is to provide an incentive for landowners to keep their property forested. The act would give tax credits for people who own 200 acres or more of forest property and choose not to develop the forestland for at least 15 years.
“It’s not just important for our environment. It’s also important for our timber companies. It’s an economic vote to help maintain our vibrant timber industry here in the state of Georgia,” Garrett said.
The state would reimburse local governments for the property tax revenue they lose from the lower tax.
“As a package, I think this is one of the most important opportunities the state’s had in years,” McWilliams said.
A public information session to educate the public on the proposed constitutional amendments will be held Saturday, Oct. 18 from 10 - 11:30 a.m. at the Dawson County Senior Center. The senior center is located at 201 Recreation Road, Dawsonville.
DCN Regional Staff Melissa Weinman contributed to this report.
E-mail Michele Hester at firstname.lastname@example.org.