Douglasville asks state delegation to put TAD vote on ballot in July

Special/City of Douglasville

The city of Douglasville is one step closer to realizing its 10-year Downtown Master Plan dream, but only if the state legislature approves putting a Tax Allocation District referendum on the July 24 ballot and voters approve it. The projected $40.8 million plan includes turning the old jail site into an amphitheater and a green space, as well as spelling out "Douglasville" on the bridge that exists in the area.

The city of Douglasville is one step closer to realizing its 10-year Downtown Master Plan dream, but only if the state legislature approves putting a Tax Allocation District referendum on the July 24 ballot and voters approve it.

The big picture for the city is to help fund the master plan through the Tax Allocation Districts (TADs). TADs, also known as tax increment financing in other states, are specific areas where a share of property tax revenues goes towards incentivizing development. As development grows, the property's value increases and a part of those taxes on the improved property repays the city's costs.

It's a method that's been used in Atlanta to expand the Atlantic Station complex. Villa Rica is also trying to get state legislation to allow a TAD referendum on the city's November ballot. Villa Rica's TAD would create a roadway from the Mirror Lake neighborhood to the downtown area.

To get the TAD approved, the city would first have to get state legislation to allow the item to be on July's ballot, have the voters approve the TAD, and then have the county and school board to agree to receive the same tax revenue they received before the development was built.

After Monday night's council meeting, Douglasville sent its request for a referendum to Rep. Roger Bruce, D-Atlanta, head of Douglas County's state delegation, City Manager Marcia Hampton said. If lawmakers introduce the local bill and it is approved in the House and Senate and signed by the governor, the TAD will be placed on the July ballot.

The first available voting date for the city to place the TAD option on the ballot was May 22, which is the date of the primary elections in Georgia. The council previously agreed that there wasn't enough time to have all of the necessary work done after getting the legislature to approve the referendum to get it on the ballot in time for the May date.

"What we are told by the election superintendent is that in order to have an election on May 22, we must be completely done by April 1, which sounds awfully tight to get it done," Chief Assistant City Attorney Suzan Littlefield said at a city council committee meeting on Jan. 11.

July 24 is the runoff date for primaries, which is very likely, according to Mayor Pro Tem Richard Segal.

"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 previously said to the Sentinel. "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."

As of now, the only area Douglasville is looking to implement the TAD is in the downtown area. Back in November, 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.

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