City cautious on spending bond money

Published 5:00 am Thursday, April 18, 2002

While expressing some support for the project, Brookhavenofficials Tuesday delayed a decision to designate over $1 millionfor a new industrial park.

Chandler Russ, executive vice-president of theBrookhaven-Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce, asked the city boardto set aside $1.028 million for the new park project that officialsare pursuing. The city recently received the money from theWal-Mart Distribution Center as repayment of a 1987 bond andfunding related to a Urban Development Action Grant (UDAG).

However, Mayor Bill Godbold indicated a need for flexibility inpossible other uses for the funds.

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“I don’t think we should earmark that until we give it somefurther study,” Godbold said.

For example, Godbold said the funds could be needed to assistwith repayment of a bond issue used to install water and sewerservices for an industrial park industry. The mayor said city fundsare tight and it did not have money to set aside.

“I’d like to be that well off that we could, but everybodyaround the this board doesn’t know what could break loose next,”Godbold said.

Russ said he was not expecting board action on the requestTuesday night, but he did want to start a dialogue regarding theproject and funding. The Vision Partnership has set aside over$900,000, and the county is supporting the park project but has notdesignated any funds for it yet.

“This is a one-time shot that the IDF sees, and it’s the finalpiece for the puzzle,” Russ said about the city’s UDAG funds.

Russ said a new industrial park is the most important projectfor the future of economic development.

Officials are still considering engineering firms to study sixpossible new industrial park sites and make a recommendation. Oncethe firm is chosen, Russ said it will be important to know how muchmoney is available for land purchases if needed.

Ward 2 Alderman Terry Bates said the city will support theeconomic development project. However, he also agreed with themayor about funding flexibility and desire to not set aside themoney.

“Step by step, we can do it….,” Bates said about projectprogress. “You don’t have to worry about us.”

Later, the fund set aside request was a topic of discussion ascity officials left the board meeting. Ward 1 Alderman DorseyCameron said he “couldn’t believe” the chamber’s request to earmarkthe $1 million.

“That’s every penny Wal-Mart reimbursed the city,” Cameronsaid.

Cameron echoed Godbold’s assertion the money could be needed forother “city purposes.”

“It’s a lot of things that we need to do in the City ofBrookhaven,” Cameron said. “Our budget is strapped.”

Cameron agreed the UDAG money is to be used for economicdevelopment purposes, but he said he wanted to see moredocumentation on the funds than what was presented during themeeting. Godbold said the city may need to borrow against the moneyfor city purposes.

“It’ll be a resource to fall back on if we have to have it, butwe’ll repay it,” Godbold said.

In other industry related matters during the board meeting, Russspoke on behalf of Wal-Mart Distribution Center and McLane Southernand their desires to not be included in city annexation plans.Citing company calculations, annexation would mean about $277,000more a year in property taxes for Wal-Mart and about $100,000 morea year for McLane, he said.

Russ said the IDF has passed a resolution supporting annexationin general, but not any specific plan. He said it was “alarming”that one of the companies has expressed concerns about itsdifficulty in continued growth operations should annexation comeabout.

“Their corporate office would view an increase in operatingexpenses in a negative manner,” Russ said.

Godbold questioned whether the companies were actually askingfor a delay in taxation. After conferring with state tax commissionofficials, City Attorney Joe Fernald said it appeared the citycould not grant a property tax exemption.

“They’s asking that their taxes not be affected by thisannexation,” Russ added.

Godbold said the city is awaiting a legal review of the propertytax situation and would then confer with Russ and companyofficials.

“We want to do everything under the law to help them, but wecan’t go outside the law to help them,” Godbold said.