Council Ends Impact Fees – Stover Speaks At Meeting

The Morgan County Citizen
By Michael Prochaska
Staff Writer

After a three-hour dialogue from members of the public and city councilmen, the council voted 3-2 to eliminate impact fees but to revisit them in two years.

City Attorney Joe Reitman said the two-year stipulation was flexible in the extent of how the council would wish to re-examine the fee. In 2014, the council could do as little as hold a discussion on the economic influence of the elimination or reconsider the fee altogether with public hearings.

The first to speak at the public hearing spoke in favor of impact fees.

Rev. Charles Johnson of Flat Rock Baptist said that although he is not a resident of Madison, many members of his congregation live in the city and that the elimination would increase taxes and deter new businesses.

“I don’t believe doing away with impact fees would really help the people of my congregation,” he said. “Most of [the] people that I represent are low-income people. They probably need jobs. Most of them are on fixed incomes. I think the average household income is probably right around $12,000 a year.”

For those who spoke either in favor or opposition of impact fees, the issue was a numbers game.

Some of those numbers represented jobs, as exemplified by Realtor Gene Baldwin, who claimed that Madison lost 890 jobs since 2000 and only gained 108 back through companies like Anthony International and Rema Tip Top.

In other instances, the numbers were about time.

“I’ve been on the council for 30 years,” said Councilman Fred Perriman. “Twenty-seven of those years, we did not have impact fees and we did just fine. We owe it to our citizens to do what’s right.”

Throughout the night, many of the numbers discussed were about money.

“Madison currently has collected about $30,000 a year in impact fees,” said David Stover, founder of Stover + Powell marketing and business advisory firm in Atlanta. “At the current rate, it will take you 136 years to finish the projects outlined in the Capital Improvements Plan.
Stover said Madison was in the top five highest municipalities for impact fees and that the revenue collected could not fund what he considered to be too ambitious of projects.

“I don’t see you finishing any of those projects with impact fees,” he said. “It’s not going to happen. It’s going to come through your property tax base.”

Stover said the tax benefits of larger businesses such as a Caterpillar would compensate for the revenue lost when eliminating impact fees.
Caterpillar’s plans to establish a new plant in northeast Georgia sparked discussion on issues larger than just impact fees, such as why Morgan County has not seen the economic growth of some its neighbors.

“I’m challenging the City of Madison to bring business here,” said Ed Latham.  “If we don’t get jobs in this county and in this city, we’re going to die.”

Latham said he could not definitively say impact fees were the cause of what he considered poor economic growth but that it wouldn’t hurt to eliminate them.

“I have five kids that graduated from Morgan County, and not one of them lives here because there are no jobs,” he said. “I want my kids to come home.”

County Commissioner Ellen Warren said the county is prepared to work with the city and the Madison-Morgan Chamber of Commerce to spur an “attractive business climate.”

“We are on the cusp of making things happen,” she said. “With the support of the Chamber, we can make this happen.”

Councilman Whitey Hunt, who supported impact fees, said the overall discussion boiled down to jobs and that they don’t come easy. He asked fellow council members and city employees if the City of Madison was prepared to commit to investing in property that would cost millions of dollars in hope of attracting a larger business like Caterpillar.

Hunt said that Athens-Clarke and Oconee counties paid almost $10 million to purchase 252 acres for land that straddles those county’s lines, as reported by the the Athens Banner-Herald. He further stressed that those governments will spend millions more to establish power services and roads for the plant, paid for by taxpayers.

Madison Mayor Bruce Gilbert said that in the past, the city was collecting more revenue and interest but stymied growth has resulted in a tight budget.

“Money is a problem,” he said, “but we have always been able to budget for projects we need.”

Councilman Michael Naples, who supported impact fees, said good government has to look to the future and that preserving impact fees would benefit existing residents.

A motion was made by Naples to suspended impact fees in specified districts but was not met with a second. Several attempts on motions to suspend the fee for varying lengths of time were made but after further discussion, those motions were rescinded. The final motion carried 3-2 to eliminate the fees across the board but to revisit them in two years.

In other city council news:

  • The Web site named Madison one of the World’s “16 most Picturesque Villages.” The Web site describes Madison as “Norman Rockwell meets ‘Gone with the Wind’ in Madison, Georgia,” and that “restored antebellum homes still stand alongside fragrant gardens and plenty of independent boutiques, restaurant, and inns.”
  • The council held a first reading of the Sunday Alcohol Sales Packing and Sunday Alcohol Sales Pouring referenda.
  • The council unanimously voted to sign a Statewide Mutual Aid and Assistance Agreement that gives Madison authority to make agreements for aid assistance in emergencies and ensures the timely reimbursement of costs incurred by Madison. The agreement expires on March 1, 2016.
  • Solo Cup, a foodservice products industry in Social Circle, plans to lease surplus space, according to City Attorney Joe Reitman. After several council members and Madison Mayor Bruce Gilbert asked about rumours that Solo Cup may be closing in the course of discussion on impact fees, Reitman denied that they were closing based on an e-mail correspondence with the company.

Printed in the March 1, 2012 edition

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