Residents to get say on financing plan

Published 5:00 am Monday, October 4, 2004

Supporters and opponents of a financing plan to bring ahome-improvement store to Brookhaven will have opportunities tomake their voices heard during public hearings Monday andTuesday.

Lincoln County supervisors and Brookhaven aldermen scheduled thehearings to get residents’ input on an $825,000 tax incrementfinancing, or TIF, plan to provide infrastructure for a BrookwayBoulevard development, which is widely believed to be a Home Depotstore. The public hearings are 9 a.m. Monday before supervisors and6 p.m. Tuesday before aldermen.

“It’s a chance for those in support of the project and those inopposition to speak and have their peace,” said Chandler Russ,Brookhaven-Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce executivevice-president.

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Chris Gouras, a consultant working with developer ErgonProperties, said he planned to present general information on thecity and county redevelopment plans for the proposed 11-acre siteon the boulevard and the TIF plan. He said there seems to be someconfusion among members of the public about project benefits todevelopers and the company.

“They think they’re getting a tax break,” Gouras said. “That’snot the case.”

If the TIF plan is approved, Gouras said a portion of theanticipated additional property and sales taxes from thedevelopment would be pledged toward paying off a bond issue. Thebond issue would address road, water and sewer, and drainage needs,but no parking lot or other private activities.

Russ agreed. He said the TIF plan is simply a financing tool toprovide the necessary infrastructure.

“Under no circumstances is this proposed retail developmentreceiving any tax break,” Russ said.

Officials are expecting the hearings to be well-attended.Chancery Clerk Tillmon Bishop said every public hearing isdifferent, depending on the issue involved.

“This particular one seems to have a little more air ofpopularity because of some competitive issues,” said Bishop,anticipating that most participants will be objectors to the TIFplan. “I suspect most of the people who take the time to attend apublic hearing will not be in favor of it.”

Bill Behan, president of Columbus Lumber Co., is one objectorplanning to attend. He said he and company employees have beenwearing “No Home Depot” buttons at work.

“I want the board of supervisors and the board of aldermen tounderstand what impact a retailer like Home Depot could have onthat sector of the local economy,” Behan said.

Behan said he was not afraid of competition.

Instead of economic development, Behan said having a Home Depotwould result in economic displacement by drawing limited sales taxdollars away from existing local merchants. Furthermore, hequestioned whether a company with $4 billion in annual sales neededassistance.

“They need to take the same business risks that every otherBrookhaven merchant has done,” Behan said.

Behan said it was “short-sighted” and “misleading” to say thatproviding infrastructure to private land is a public project.

“This a requirement so a private landowner can have ingress andegress to his property,” Behan said.

Behan was unsure how many people would be attending thehearings, but those he had spoken with planned to be at bothmeetings.

Behan said the TIF project is not needed and that Home Depotwould come to Brookhaven if the company believes there is aprofitable market here.

“I happen to think there’s not enough capacity in thismarketplace,” Behan said.

Without TIF plan approval, the home improvements store will notlocate in Brookhaven, supporters said.

Russ has cited financial projections that show the bonds easilybeing paid off through additional property and sales taxesgenerated by the development. From additional property and salestaxes, the city and county are forecast to have a total of over$271,000 to service bond issue that is expected to be around$105,000 a year over a 10-year period.

“The hard numbers are enough to warrant what we’re doing here,”Russ said.

While he said he understands competitors’ concerns, Russ saidthe project would produce overall good results by bringingadditional revenue to Brookhaven and Lincoln County. In addition toa property value increase, Russ said he believes the store woulddraw customers and sales tax dollars from surrounding counties tohelp further strengthen Brookhaven as a regional shopping hub.

It was unclear when supervisors and aldermen would act, althougha resolution in support of the TIF plan would be timed withdevelopment of the property. Votes were not expected at this week’shearings.

“They’re not designed for any action,” Russ said. “They’redesigned for people to voice support or opposition orconcerns.”