Capacity crowd clashes on Home Depot financing plan

Published 5:00 am Tuesday, October 5, 2004

A standing-room-only audience filled the Lincoln Countysupervisors board room Monday as opponents and supporters of afinancing plan for a Home Depot aired their opinions.

The county and city have been asked to consider an $825,000 taxincrement financing plan, or TIF, to provide infrastructure to an11-acre site on Brookway Boulevard. If approved, anticipatedadditional property and sales taxes from the development would bepledged to pay off a bond issue for the infrastructure, whichincludes a road, water and sewer, traffic signalization and similarneeds, said Chris Gouras, a consultant working with developer ErgonProperties.

The board took no action on the TIF plan Monday.

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“I think we need to talk about it, myself,” said District FiveSupervisor Gary Walker.

Brookhaven aldermen will hold a public hearing on the TIF planat 6 p.m. today.

Opponents, who outnumbered supporters at Monday’s hearing,voiced concerns about competitive issues and questioned whether theTIF plan was needed. Supporters touted consumer benefits of freeenterprise and more shopping opportunities.

“This is progress,” said Brookhaven resident John Perkins.

Perkins recalled similar competition objections to Woolworth’s,Wal-Mart, Walgreens and other large retailers who have located inBrookhaven over the years.

“It’s fair competition, and that’s what our nation is based on,”Perkins said.

Perkins urged people to look at McComb with its shopping, largertax base and employment opportunities. A Home Depot would increaseBrookhaven’s tax base, bring additional jobs and be a magnet forfuture business, said Perkins, who received a smattering ofapplause as he ended his comments.

Objectors expressed fears over the potential for lost jobs andclosed businesses. Tom Moak, owner of the building that housesPerkins Hardware, which has been around since 1875, said thebusinesses represented Monday felt threatened by Home Depot.

“Chances are, one of us is going to go, maybe more,” said Moak,a former owner of the hardware store.

Richard Cummins, owner of Southern Welding Supply, said he andHome Depot sell a few of the same items. However, with the largecompany’s buying power, he was at a disadvantage.

“They can sell it for what I buy it for,” Cummins said.

Cummins went on to talk about displacement of jobs.

“What am I going to do with my people?” Cummins said.

Tommy Franklin was one Southern Welding employee concerned abouthis job. If he lost his, Franklin said he doubted he could live onwhat he’d be paid if he were hired by Home Depot.

“Big business brings big pay for people in their ownorganization,” Franklin said.

Cummins lauded smaller businesses’ service-after-the-salebenefits. He questioned whether the county would give him$200,000-$300,000 to improve his business.

Retired teacher Patricia Thames, though, offered an indictmentof service provided by local businesses.

Thames said she tried unsuccessfully to buy in Brookhaven whenshe remodeled her home. She said local businesses lost $24,000during her remodeling effort, which covered one year and threerooms.

“I wanted top-quality material. I couldn’t get it here inBrookhaven,” said Thames, adding that everything had to be ordered.”You need to be aware of this.”

While not identifying any specific business, Thames said onelocal company did not have the inventory to meet her requests and asalesperson at another store was rude.

“I’m stepping on some businesses’ toes now, but you need to bestepped on,” Thames said.

Thames mentioned one incident in which a salesperson was cuttingoff lights five minutes before the business was supposed to close.She said she warned that rudeness would result in lostbusiness.

In opening the hearing, board attorney Bob Allen had askedspeakers to refrain from personal attacks. Thames defended herposition.

“I wanted people that have businesses here to wake up and seewhat’s happening,” Thames said.

Former Supervisor Bill Loving defended local businesses but alsoexpressed support for new business.

“I’ve always been treated mighty nice by Brookhaven merchants,”Loving said.

Loving said he thought a Home Depot would attract people fromother areas.

“I really think a Home Depot would help Brookhaven and LincolnCounty,” Loving said.

Bill Behan, president of Columbus Lumber Co., said the TIF planis not necessary to entice Home Depot to Brookhaven. Home Depotopens a new store every 50 hours, he said.

“Retail development is not new or novice to Home Depot,” Behansaid.

Behan said the infrastructure requested is a requirement fromthe seller to the buyer of the property.

“They want it to satisfy a purchase requirement at the expenseof Lincoln County taxpayers,” Behan said.

Behan mentioned an informal survey of 13 local businesses thathandle the same products or services as Home Depot.

He said the six respondents’ business totaled $11 million inannual sales, $1.7 million in payroll and 78 employees. He urgedsupervisors to consider that when making their decision.

Gary Boutwell, of Brookhaven Floor Covering, also mentionedvolume issues when competing with Home Depot.

“I have no problem with competition,” Boutwell said. “I do havea problem with competition that is out of my league.”

He said the board should take a long, hard look at how peoplewould be affected.

Jim Crawford, of Southern Unique, said $825,000 is a “drop inthe bucket” for a company the size of Home Depot.

“We can use that a whole lot better ways that what we’re doing,”Crawford said.

Lincoln County resident Pat McCullough said developers areseeking the TIF plan to try and offset a capital investment. Hesaid the bottom line is profit.

He pointed out that Lincoln County has more paved roads andbridges than any other county in the state.

“Now there’s some infrastructure you can apply your dollars to,”McCullough said.

Monday’s hearing began with questions from Lincoln Countyresident Peter Swalm about notification of the public hearings on aredevelopment plan and the TIF plan. He questioned the term”redevelopment” for the Brookway Boulevard site.

“There’s nothing ‘re-‘ about that development out there,” Swalmsaid. “Nothing’s out there but a few pine trees and a clayhill.”

Gouras said the redevelopment plan, which is required to pursuea TIF plan, identifies ways a property can be put into use.

Swalm also questioned whether counties could participate in aTIF plan, saying the law was intended for municipalities’ downtownsand blighted areas. Gouras said counties make take part under thegoverning laws.

Following the hearing, supervisors moved into their regularmeeting.

At the end of the meeting, supervisors went into executivesession to discuss industrial recruitment. The board recessed itsmeeting until 9 a.m. Friday, at which time a decision on the TIFplan could be made.

“We had a lot of good information presented to us today,” saidDistrict Four Supervisor Doug Moak. “We need to sit down, discussit and make our decision after we’ve thought about it a littlebit.”