Financing plan foes reiterate objections

Published 5:00 am Wednesday, October 6, 2004

Opponents of a tax plan to help lure a Home Depot to Brookhavenurged city officials Tuesday to let the home-improvement store payits own way instead of providing city revenue for theinfrastructure.

Approximately 30-40 citizens, mostly objectors, filled the cityboard room Tuesday night for a public hearing on a tax incrementfinancing plan. The TIF plan would allow the city and county toprovide infrastructure to the proposed development on BrookwayBoulevard.

Many of those in attendance Tuesday night had also attended asimilar hearing Monday morning before the Lincoln County Board ofSupervisors. Like supervisors Monday, aldermen last night took noaction on the proposal.

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Speakers made many of the same points they expressed at Monday’scounty meeting.

Bill Behan, president of Columbus Lumber Co., said he was nottrying to stop efforts to bring a Home Depot to Brookhaven.However, he contended a TIF plan was unnecessary to help thesecond-largest retail company in the United States.

Behan said bringing a Home Depot was not economic developmentbut economic displacement because limited sales would be drawn awayfrom existing local businesses. He expressed concerns for thosebusinesses, many of whose owners, he said, had dedicated theirlives to Brookhaven.

“There will be locally owned businesses that will not survivewith Home Depot in the marketplace,” Behan said.

Eddie Cagle, who worked with Wal-Mart before joining ColumbusLumber, drew some comparisons between his former employer and HomeDepot.

Those included the large company’s practice of lowering prices,while raising prices on other products to reman profitable. Caglealso mentioned the potential for payroll cutbacks that could affectemployees and their families.

Cagle said Home Depot was not wanting to come to Brookhaven tohelp the community but because Lowe’s is 20 miles away inMcComb.

“It’s a major war between them,” Cagle said.

Cagle made some sarcastic comments about the “high schoolprofessional student” level of service provided by places likeLowe’s and Home Depot. In a similar tone, he questioned how muchadditional sales-tax revenue would be generated by shoppers fromMeadville, Bude, Monticello and Wesson coming to Home Depot.

Cagle said representatives of Ergon Properties, which ishandling development of the site for Home Depot, were bluffing whenthey say the store will not come without the TIF plan. He urgedaldermen to have Home Depot pay its own way if it wants to be inBrookhaven.

Former Supervisor Bill Loving was the lone voice in favor of theHome Depot plan Tuesday. He also spoke at Monday’s countyhearing.

Loving mentioned several instances in which he found productscheaper at places outside of Brookhaven. He said he understood somebusinesses may not survive with a Home Depot here.

“But the people of Lincoln County need some help,” said Loving,adding that a few dollars makes a difference to the workingman.

Loving’s comments motivated Linda Pickett, of Perkins Hardware,to speak. She said she and her husband had operated the store for12 years, working six days a week and sometimes on Sunday to helpcustomers and keep the business going.

“We don’t mind the work. We do it because we love it,” Pickettsaid.

Pickett said the store looks out for its employees and had cuthours only once in 12 years, in 1995 during a recession. Regardingprices, she said their store is cheaper on many items sold bylarger stores.

“But most people never take the time to come look,” Pickettsaid.

John Koehler, of Delta Welding Supply, pointed out sponsorshipof local youth sports teams by local businesses. He questionedwhether Home Depot would be as civic-minded.

Like Behan, Koehler pointed out Home Depot’s size.

“It surprises me to even think we’d help somebody like that,”Koehler said.

The help being sought is funds to provide a road, water andsewer, a traffic signal and other infrastructure to the 11-acresite on the boulevard. The infrastructure would also be in place tohelp with possible future development of 15 surrounding acres.

Chris Gouras, a consultant for Ergon Properties, cited revenuetotals showing the site generating a total of $2,837 in propertytaxes for the city and county now.

With the development, real and personal property taxes for thecity and county were estimated at over $80,000. Based onanticipated $15 million in annual sales, the city’s share of salestax was estimated at $194,000.

All or part of that new revenue could be pledged to pay off abond issue for the infrastructure project. If the city and countydecide to pursue the TIF plan, Gouras said supervisors and aldermenwould decide the length of time for bond issue repayment.

Gouras said construction of the store would result in about 100construction jobs over an eight-month period, with an payroll ofaround $2.2 million. Once built, the store would have 75-100 fullor part-time employees and an annual payroll of about $2million.