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Commissioners press “pause” on residential development with month-long moratorium
BOC moratorium 2022
During the BOC’s July 7 work session, Chairman Billy Thurmond, right, listens as District 2 commissioner Chris Gaines, left, talks about the need for a county residential rezoning moratorium in light of increasing concerns about a nationwide economic recession. - photo by Julia Fechter

“We know we can’t just stop growth,” said District 2 Commissioner Chris Gaines during the Board of Commissioners’ July 7 meetings. “What we can do is pause it legally within the bounds that we have.”

During their voting session on Thursday, the Dawson County Board of Commissioners approved an emergency moratorium on the acceptance of new residential development rezoning applications effective from that meeting until Aug. 5, 2022.

At the July 7 work session, Gaines explained that a moratorium will allow the board to take a look at zoning regulations and impact fees to see if those are adequate or need to be changed to account for future growth and development. 

As stated previously in DCN, impact fees are charged to incoming developments to help offset the county’s costs for servicing the new areas. 

The moratorium will not apply to developments that have already been passed or are going through the county’s approval process, like the mixed-use complex proposed by Fox Creek Properties or Continental’s proposed Avanterra Dawson community, which the BOC denied on Thursday. 

The Fox Creek development will come up again on the BOC’s July 21 agenda, at which time there will not be a public hearing for it, since one was already held at the board’s May 19 meeting.

This story continues below.

Public hearings

Similarly, the first meeting for the proposed county millage rate was held at the beginning of the BOC’s July 7 work session. A second hearing will be held during the July 21 work session, which will start at 4 p.m.

Public hearings for both a moratorium extension and the proposed millage rate will be held during the board’s Aug. 4 voting session, which will start at 6 p.m. in the BOC’s second-floor meeting room at the Dawson County Courthouse. This individual voting session’s time change accounts for the millage rate hearing’s mandatory duration between 6-7 p.m. The tentative millage rate will be adopted following that third hearing.

Residential and revenue

During the meeting, Gaines, who’s previously voiced an interest in increasing commercial revenue opportunities, took the lead in explaining the resolution during the board’s work session. He pointed out that his main motivation for supporting a moratorium is an anticipated recession. 

The BOC last enacted a moratorium at the end of 2019 to amend the rezoning process.

At the BOC’s May 5 voting session, Development Authority of Dawson County chair Brian Trapnell pointed out that residential, rather than commercial use, is driving local property tax collections. 

A 2021 Georgia Tech study for Dawson County, which DCN obtained on Friday, provided more information up to FY2019 on the county’s different land uses. The study showed that residential development accounts for 67.7 percent of Dawson County’s tax base.

Georgia Tech land use study

While this year’s local tax collections are looking similar at face value to last year’s month-to-month increases, Gaines said in a follow-up call with DCN that he believed the uptick is more so tied to inflation. 

He explained that the county relies on sales tax revenue to pay for its services to areas including past new subdivisions and said that less revenue could mean a heavier burden on property taxes.

The Georgia Tech study called $431,100 the “break-even” home value for a house in Dawson County, higher than what many homes are valued in the area. 

“In other words, on average, any house valued at less than $431,100 is not covering the cost of the county services,” the study said. 

Its analysis also referred to Dawson County as “entirely unique” since sales from the North Georgia Premium Outlets play a larger role in collections for the Local Option Sales Tax, when typically more property taxes would be collected for that purpose. 

Additionally, businesses also play a bigger role in Dawson County by paying back “far more than they get back in in services ($0.71 in expenditures for every $1 in revenue), which not only creates a fiscal surplus for the county, but also helps to cover the residential deficit,” stated the Georgia Tech study. That surplus increases to .41 for every dollar once schools are included. 

While Dawson County’s residential digest doesn’t fully pay for services, the study stated it did come very close with $1.04 spent for every dollar.

That ratio of more than 1.0 means that residential property doesn’t cover the costs of county services, said the study, even with the bolstering of LOST from out-of-county shoppers. 

The study did pinpoint the amount of $1.04 as being closer to breaking even than the national median of $1.16.

“One of the reasons that the county residential deficit is so small is due to the amount of LOST that is paid by out-of-county residents,” the study stated. “While this is a positive situation for Dawson County, new growth still demands capital expenditures (e.g., roads, traffic lights, fire stations, etc.) which could place a burden on local government finances.”

This moratorium decision follows months of existing Dawson County residents attending public meetings and voicing their concerns that proposed subdivisions would negatively impact the existing transportation infrastructure and emergency services. 

To that end, Dawson County Fire and Emergency Services did gain two new, much-anticipated ambulances that are expected to go into service next week. 

“With the uncertainty of what our revenue is going to look like going forward, it’d be pertinent of us to hit pause on the additional new construction of residential developments in Dawson County until we have the ability to look at impact fees,” Gaines said on July 7. 

Previously, District 3 Commissioner candidate Deanna Dickinson voiced her support of at least a 60 to 90-day moratorium on development. 

Dickinson said in a phone call with DCN that she’s “glad the commissioners are listening to their constituents” and added it’d be important for the board to “continue to listen.”

“None of us can predict the future, but we need to be able to plan to the best of our ability,” said District 4 Commissioner and BOC vice chairman Emory Dooley on July 7. “This'll give us a little breathing room to do that…to adjust our zoning regulations and impact fees to make sure we’re able to fund our future growth without placing a larger tax burden on our community.”