At their last meeting of the year, the Thomaston-Upson Industrial Development Authority (TUIDA) made plans to move forward with petitioning the city and county governments to dedicate one mill of tax for the TUIDA to use for debt relief (currently the TUIDA has $1,405,733 in debt) or local incentives for new or existing industries. Board member Frank King made a presentation on the proposal, which would include an intergovernmental agreement between Upson County and Thomaston to keep the dedicated mill in place for five years. The new revenue collected through this process would go directly from the tax commissioner to the TUIDA joint projects account.
The reason behind making the agreement for five years is to ensure that with changes of those in office, someone can’t just come in and decide to do away with the collection, King explained.
“We had a mill three years ago and it lasted for one year and was gone,” King said. “You just can’t plan with that. Having that (agreement) in place would keep new people who really don’t understand this from coming into office and immediately voting to save the tax payers money and do away with it.”
King’s presentation included a comparison of Upson County to two counties, Toombs and Coffee, which have been successful in having a dedicated mil for economic development and are the most similar to our community.
“If you drive into Toombs and Coffee and look at their Walmart – they don’t look a whole lot different from us,” King said. “They’ve got plenty of poverty, their racial balance is the same, and they have a lot of commonality with us. They aren’t nearly as pretty of a county or community as we are, but they have jobs and their folks are making money.”
According to King’s research, Upson County had around 27,000 citizens in the 2010 census and currently has an unincorporated tax levy of 18.76 mills. The property tax digest value of one mill went down to $565,559, which is $30,000 in 2014 as compared to the previous year. He added that the collections of the one cent sales tax in 2014 was $3,176,000, while in 2007 it was $3,520,991, leaving Upson County to collect $344,991 less than it did seven years prior. King stated that Toombs County is most closely related size wise and in 2010 they had a population of about 26,000 and currently have an unincorporated tax levy rate of 9.165 mills. He noted that they have a property tax digest value of one mill at approximately $700,000 and in 2014, they collected $4,777,511 from the one cent sales tax.
“When you ask the government officials to raise one mill, they are going to say ‘Oh, we can’t have any more taxes,’” King speculated. “Look at the unincorporated county tax in Toombs because they built in an industrial base, compared to ours. Now, whether we would have the success they’ve had or not, I don’t know; but 20 years from now if we don’t really do something, we are going to continue to have a tax increase.”
Thomaston Mayor Hays Arnold agreed with King, noting all you had to do was look at the state of the community when all the mills and other large industries were operating which gave the community a much greater tax digest. However, all of those industries, along with the taxes associated with them, are gone.
King added that if you look at all the indicators: sales tax is down, property tax digest is down, the school system’s numbers are down, and things are not looking good for Upson County if some form of action is not taken now. He stated he does not feel any of these issues are the fault of any one person who is on the board now or has been in the past; however it will be everyone’s fault if we continue to “kick the can down the road” without doing anything.
“If we get extra revenue will we be successful? I don’t know, but I know we won’t if we don’t,” said King.
The board agreed that this was definitely something they should move forward with. Board member Scott Blackston also added that if the TUIDA had had additional incentive money in place, he feels certain there would have been two main industries to locate in the area that offered jobs with a high starting salary. The first he stated would have offered employees an average salary of $80,000 per year and Thomaston was number one on the list for landing the deal until just being outbid by LaFayette, Georgia because they had better local incentives. The other company he mentioned would have created 400 plus jobs with an average salary of $60,000 a year. He stated it just comes down to a numbers game and the companies are looking to go with whoever offers the most.
TUIDA Attorney Joel Bentley agreed that money is most important when it comes to landing a prospect.
“From the experiences I’ve had as the attorney and I’ve negotiated incentive packages, the bottom line is money trumps anything else you can do in kind,” Bentley said. “It trumps incentive offers, bond issues in terms of grants like we’ve put together. What they are looking for is essentially upfront incentives we can tie to our clawback provisions.”
Bentley added that the TUIDA’s old clawbacks made it difficult to get money back if something didn’t work out for the company; however that is no longer the case. Now, companies have to prove they are going to do what they say they are going to do then they will get the money, versus being given the money and then if things don’t work out the TUIDA would try to get the money back.
He added when the TUIDA asked for the mill in 2013, at that time the City of Thomaston and Upson County were embroiled in litigation which has since largely resolved itself and the relationship between the two entities is better than he has seen it in years. Therefore, he believes it would be a practical time to move forward with the proposal. The TUIDA board members agreed and a meeting between the TUIDA, the city and the county is to be scheduled sometime in January 2016.
In other business, TUIDA Chairman Billy Johnston presented Mayor Arnold with an award for his many years of dedication as a board member for the TUIDA since 2004. Arnold is retiring as Mayor in December, and will go off the TUIDA board as well. J. D. Stalling, elected Mayor in the election earlier this month, will assume Arnold’s position on the TUIDA board beginning in January.
“Through his leadership, the City of Thomaston has been able to withstand tough economic times and even rebound as infrastructure has been enhanced, parks have been built and improved and taxes have not been raised in the city,” Johnston said. “Through the city’s partnership with Electric Cities of Georgia, we’ve seen the number of prospects increase. Mayor Arnold’s dedication to our community will forever be remembered and we appreciate his service on the IDA Board.”
Arnold thanked the board for the recognition and stated how much he loves this community. He added that when he was seeking election the only thing he promised to do for the people was to do the best that he could and he feels like he has done that throughout his tenure.
Ashley Biles can be reached by calling 706-647-5414 or on Twitter @AshleyBiles1