Doraville, GA, March 10, 2016 – Commentary by Doraville Mayor Donna Pittman – I was born and raised in DeKalb County. I attended DeKalb County Schools, and my children all attended DeKalb County schools. I currently have a child in the DeKalb County Schools and I am proud of these facts. I believe that the DeKalb County School System could greatly benefit from the proposed GM site redevelopment known as the Assembly. I have become greatly concerned about the misinformation being put forward concerning this redevelopment.
This does not just concern me as the mayor of Doraville, but as a mom. There is a Tax Allocation District (TAD) being proposed for this plan to work effectively which could also help the School System. When I consider the future of our schools and think about the tens of millions of dollars that the school district will not get by saying no to the TAD, it saddens me.
There are those that would have us believe that by participating in our TAD, the schools will be giving up tax revenue. In reality they will only lose revenue if they don’t participate.
Those that would have us believe that TADs are bad for schools, make a very misguided assumption.
That assumption is that the development will happen without the TAD.
During the TAD process, a city or county is required to prepare what the state calls a “redevelopment plan.” This is basically a feasibility study. Many communities produce these in-house, but to avoid any perceived bias, Doraville used a highly respected third-party firm. The study projected an eventual build-out worth roughly $800 million in assessed tax value.
Currently, the TAD area is assessed at $40 million, which translates into $1.7 million in property tax revenue for the three jurisdictions. The city, county and school district would continue to collect that figure during the life of the TAD. As the area develops, taxes from the increased value (“positive increment”) are directed toward paying off revenue bonds that are used to build the infrastructure needed to allow the site to develop in the first place.
The study determined that, in theory, $247 million in bonds could be issued. In reality, the total infrastructure costs are around $180,000,000. This shows us that the development plan will more than support the needed infrastructure costs if all three jurisdictions participate.
TAD funds can also be used to leverage other sources such as grants which will greatly reduce the needed increment and bring the TAD to an end sooner. Without a TAD, neither Doraville nor DeKalb County can afford the 20 percent match required for large federal grants.
The State Farm facility is being built in DeKalb right next to a MARTA station. We can have that too, but first our MARTA station has to actually connect to the former GM property. The rail line sits on the edge of Peachtree Ridge (the continental divide). The GM property sits 35 feet below a cliff.
Getting from the Doraville MARTA station to Assembly, as of now, requires a 700-foot walk up New Peachtree Road, down a narrow and dangerous flight of service stairs to Motors Industrial Way. From there, it’s another 1,200 feet into one of only two entry points. We have to keep in mind the infrastructure was designed over 70 years ago. It was well suited for an industrial facility but not a dense, urban development. Opposition to TAD financing typically stems from a misguided assumption that the development can happen without it.
In the case of Doraville and the Assembly project, this assumption is simply untrue. The uniqueness of the site and the severe challenges of access to the MARTA station mean that it will not develop except on the fringes where streets already exist.
This means that millions of dollars in new revenue for our schools will be lost.
Those that would have us believe that using a TAD means that we are giving up tax dollars for the sake of a development are misrepresenting the facts. Without the TAD, the development does not happen, thus the tax dollars never materialize.
Additionally, these same critics of the TAD never seem to remember that it only uses the property tax. It does not use the personal property tax or ESPLOST money. For instance, in the case of the school district, we need to compare the two scenarios of using and not using the TAD. Over the next 25 years, the school district will receive approximately $4,000,000 in personal property tax if they do not participate in the TAD. If they do participate in the TAD, they will receive approximately $65,000,000. Over the next 25 years, the school district will receive approximately $4,100,000 in ESPLOST dollars if they do not participate in the TAD. If they do participate in the TAD, they will receive approximately $45,000,000.
All of these new dollars can be used to pay teachers and build much needed new schools.
As someone who grew up attending DeKalb schools and is now the parent of a student in DeKalb schools, it concerns me greatly that we would dismiss this opportunity.
The City of Doraville has made it clear to the School District that we are willing to work with them to make sure that students in the entire district will benefit immediately from the Assembly development.
We have shared with them our willingness to work on a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) that would direct new revenue to the school district immediately. We have shared with them our willingness to make the oversight of the TAD a true partnership. We have shared with them our willingness and desire to direct revenue to build new school facilities. All of these are in addition to the tens of millions in new revenue they will see through the life of the TAD.
I want to thank Dr. Green and his staff for taking this issue seriously. I want to thank them for taking the time to meet with us to discuss how we can make this TAD work. We look forward to meeting with them again in the very near future to find the solution that works for everyone.
– Doraville Mayor, Donna Pittman