The Thomaston-Upson Industrial Development Authority passed a proposed 2016 budget of $502,479 at their last meeting. The budget is made up of a $257,312 operating account and a $245,167 account for existing debt service. The TUIDA is a joint project of the City of Thomaston and Upson County and both entities will have the opportunity to review the proposed budget before making a final decision to approve or deny.
TUIDA Executive Director Kyle Fletcher told the board there was an increase of $1,800 to the operating account for the new line item of payroll and administrative services. Although the TUIDA is a joint project funded by the city and the county, the payroll services, insurance and retirement are administered through the county. Fletcher noted the line item was increased $1,800 because the county increased it that much and passed it on to the TUIDA. She also noted the debt services were listed because the TUIDA has recently taken over the payment of the four notes. Fletcher told the board since the transition to a joint project had really only taken place in the last month or so, she did not feel there needed to be any big changes to the budget; also noting that she wants the TUIDA to be good stewards of the tax payers’ money.
In addition to the proposed budget and current debt service, Fletcher told the board she added a note stating the TUIDA is requesting one mill from both the city and the county for economic stimulus. The TUIDA was given one mill (roughly $500,000) from the 2014 millage rate from Upson County to go towards incentives for potential industries and debt reduction, however that designation was not given for the 2015 budget. The Board of Commission voted last year to not continue the funding, stating it was due to the shrinking county digest and that doing so would raise taxes higher.
Last year, as well as so far this year, the TUIDA has come in under budget when it comes to expenses and board member Frank King suggested they petition to have the leftover money in the budget used for something such as a project or debt reduction. TUIDA Attorney Joel Bentley told the board that is something they have a right to ask of the governing bodies.
“The way the joint projects work is if you are under budget, the city and county have the right to ask for that money back,” said Bentley. “But, it is up to the IDA to say we would like to use this, since it’s already been transferred to us, for specific reasons.”
Fletcher told the board the budget is likely to change after both the city and county review the request and she will keep them updated on what is going on.
Early last month, Fletcher, along with TUIDA board member and Thomaston Mayor Hays Arnold, attended an economic update for our region where K.C. Conway, of SunTrust Market Intelligence, spoke about what is happening and what needs to happen in our area of the state. Fletcher stated that Conway spent much of his time discussing the value and importance of the Import-Export Highway, which would connect our area with the Port of Savannah. It also serves as a way to alleviate the increased volume of truck traffic on the interstate that will substantially increase once the port expansion is complete. The project is something the TUIDA, Mayor Arnold and others in the community have been advocating for many years.
“He (Conway) had slides on the Import-Export Highway and you could not have asked for a better marketer for it,” said Arnold. “He said that aside from the port expansion in Savannah, this is the single most important thing (project) in the state.”
Arnold and the rest of the board stated they hoped the presentation will bring more awareness to the project and bring more communities on board. The Savannah Port expansion project is estimated to be complete by 2017.
Finally, E Jane Caraway, a Project Manager for the Georgia Department of Economic Development, met with the board to discuss regional statistics and prospect recruitment. She told the board the TUIDA is doing a good job of keeping the community on the radar of business prospects, as well as working with existing industries that are looking to expand. She also added that as far as she knows, the main factors for why a business has decided not to locate in the area are due to proximity to the customer or a highway or the company simply decided not to spend the money to open new facilities right now. When asked what Thomaston could do to help bring more prospects in, Caraway suggested planning a tour day for project managers to come down because then, Fletcher and the board will have their undivided attention.
“You’re doing a good job, but I’m thrilled to be talking about how to do this better,” said Caraway. “The site selection consultant’s number one thing to do is to eliminate someone off the list. You have made a big impact if they came to see you.”
Ashley Biles can be reached by calling 706-647-5414 or on Twitter @AshleyBiles1