During their committee meetings last Thursday, the Douglasville City Council discussed possible referendum dates for citizens to vote on whether to give the city the authority to establish Tax Allocation Districts (TADs) to help fund the Downtown Master Plan.
TADs, called tax increment financing in other states, allow the incremental property taxes generated by increased market values within the TAD boundary to be used for infrastructure improvements for a defined period of time. TADs have no effect on property tax millage rates.
The first available voting day is May 22, which is the date of the primary elections in Georgia.
“For us to have our referendum, local legislation would have to be passed by the state legislature and be signed by the governor, in time for the council to call a special election.” Chief Assistant City Attorney Suzan Littlefield said. “What we are told by the election superintendent is that in to have an election on May 22, we must be completely done by April 1, which sounds awfully tight to get it done.”
So the next option is July 24, when there could be primary runoffs, which is very likely, according to Mayor Pro Tem Richard Segal. The other two potential dates for 2018 are on Nov. 6 and Dec. 4. The next scheduled municipal election is in November 2019.
“Ideally, we would want to hold the TAD referendum when we would have the highest voter turnout in order to get the best measure of the will of the electorate,” Segal said. “For the city, the highest turnout would be when we are voting for mayor citywide, but that isn’t until late 2019, and we don’t want to wait that long.”
Holding an election earlier isn’t the optimal situation either.
“When the city has an election at the same time as a county and state election, city voters would have to stand in two separate lines to vote for both the city question as well as the county and state offices. The city referendum does not appear on the county ballot,” according to Segal. “Some voters would even have to go to two different voting locations to vote on both ballots, which unfortunately tends to lower voter turnout for the city’s one question ballot.”
However, with the next election only for the city being so far away, members of the council agreed that July 2018 was the best time to get the item on the voting ballot.
“We would like to have TADs available in our redevelopment ‘toolbox’ when we are implementing the downtown master plan,” according to Segal.
Back in November, City Manager Marcia Hampton said that TADs would play a major part in completing the projected $40.8 million-Master Plan.
"Your city and your county government will need you to help us provide these things for you," Hampton said. "That will come in the form of tax allocation districts, it will come in the form of a potential increase in the tax digest. The reality of it is, those commercial properties that were just spoken about where the value is low, the only way for them to increase is for us collectively as a community make a decision to invest and bring them up. No one's going to come in and invest on their own."
Some of the highlights of the plan's recommendations included turning city buildings across the street from the conference center into a market. To resolve some traffic issues, a bike renting system, similar to the one in downtown Atlanta, was a proposed idea. The plan for the old jail was to bring an amphitheater and green space into the area and let the bridge that exists in the area read "Douglasville."
The main goal of the plan was to make downtown Douglasville draw people in the way other historic downtowns in the metro Atlanta area do.
The old jail site is considered Phase I. The county, the current owner of the site, and the county development authority are aware of the city's potential plans for the site on Church Street. Those plans all include demolishing the old jail site. In the building’s place, the city could have a mixed-used development with an amphitheater, dedicated green space, and retail under the master plan.
Housing in the area is also a big focus. The focus of Phase II is to continue going eastward, Community and Downtown Services Manager Patrice Williams said, with the current city buildings being potentially vacated and sold to private owners for redevelopment. City hall can also be moved into the old Douglasville Police Department on the corner of Bowden and Church streets, City Manager Marcia Hampton said.
If that part of the plan goes positively, then the plan would move on to Phase III, which is the Highway 92 area.