If the ACC Commissioners are going to put more money in the purse for economic development, they're going to control the purse strings.
Meaning that, they're not likely to create a private entity that will control economic development in Athens Clarke County. A committee of four Commissioners and Mayor Nancy Denson agreed Thursday that raising taxes without guaranteeing accountabilty is a nonstarter.
"With public money, you need to have accountability, and you get that with elected officials," said Commissioner Andy Herod, who serves as Mayor Pro Tem. "I want to make very certain how that money is going to be spent."
The committee was assembled to deconstruct a report created by the 23-member Mayor's Economic Development Task Force. The mayor's group met routinely over several months to come up with ideas for moving the county forward economically.
The plan, crafted by four task force members, calls for more money than the Commission is willing to commit to. It also creates yet another agency devoted to economic development that would need approval from the Legislature--another sticking point for the Committee.
Commissioner Kelly Girtz said asking the local legislative delegation to approve a charter for a new entity, and then potentially waiting months for that request to be granted...well, that's not a scenario he wants to consider. Especially since there are already chartered organizations in place, such as the Economic Development Authority, that could play a part.
Mayor Denson said that, historically, Athens Clarke County officials have just sat on the sidelines, waiting for a business or company to find, love and build in the community. Caterpillar came to Athens through Chris Cumiskey's Georgia Department of Economic Development office, and Johnson and Johnson contacted her with their plans for expanding their Athens operations already in hand.
"No one is going out and recruiting business," she said.
Manager Alan Reddish said bringing economic development efforts inhouse doesn't necessarily spell success. Any successful economic development effort has a strong marketing arm, a network of contacts that extends far beyond the region, or even the country, and a funding source to make it happen.
"If you don't fund those things, you won't be successful," Reddish added.
The committee said they would be willing to raise property taxes by a quarter of a mill---Mayor Denson said this translates into about $7.50 on a $100,000 house--to generate approximately $800,000 that would be dedicated to creating jobs in Athens.
They talked about partnering with a private organization, such as the Economic Development Authority, to receive private money. The committee cited the example of UGA using both restricted state dollars and private foundation dollars to fund its mission.
The committee meets next on October 30 at 3pm.