During a called Wednesday night work session, the council discussed how the planned CID would operate, its benefits for LakePoint and the city and how much control the city would have over the organization.
City Attorney Boyd Pettit explained a CID functions by taxing member businesses operating within the CID area.
“The developers come in and they say, ‘We would like to create a community improvement district so we can, in effect, tax ourselves for certain infrastructure improvements like roads ... [and] utilities,” he said.
Under a state bill signed by Gov. Nathan Deal April 11, 2012, Emerson is authorized to create a CID that could build roads, sidewalks, curbs, gutters, install traffic control devices, operate public transportation, maintain parks and recreation facilities and operate sewer and water utilities.
However, the bill allows the Emerson City Council to limit what the CID may build in its area. For example, Pettit said, he did not see the need at this time for a public transportation system.
In addition, City Manager Kevin McBurnett said, any infrastructure, such as a water system, would be built using CID funds and then turned over to the city for maintenance and operation.
“There’s a way that it can work for our good. So I don’t have a problem with it, after I read it, so long as the infrastructure gets to be conveyed back to us — any infrastructure that’s built — and I believe it does in what I’m reading,” he said. “... When you read all this you’re going to say you just created a new city inside of this city. Essentially, the same as Emerson was created inside of Bartow County.
“That is true to an extent in that you did allow them to have certain powers, but there are many things they can’t do and they must follow every one of your laws. You have the ability to be able to govern them. But they do have the ability to vote, and determine where they are going to spend the extra tax money that they collect, and these are the only items that they can spend it on.”
The CID would operate on a tax the CID board levies against the businesses who have joined the CID. The board, Pettit said, would be able to set the millage rate at any level it desired and that millage rate would be an extra tax on the businesses within the CID area. The tax would not apply to any other businesses within Emerson that are not part of the CID.
The CID board, McBurnett said, would be comprised of five members. Three would be elected by members of the CID, while the other two board members would be appointed by the city council. The council also would have the power to determine how long their two representatives would serve on the board. All board decisions would require a majority.
Making decisions based on a majority of the vote concerned council member Charles Lowry, who pointed out that LakePoint would have a majority on the board from the very beginning. He said LakePoint, who would likely be the only occupant of the CID once it started, would have three representatives on the board against the city’s two.
“The difference between what you’re referencing and LakePoint is that those were all multiple entities,” Lowry said after McBurnett referenced other CID successes, such as Atlanta’s Midtown. “We’re looking at a single entity we’re creating a CID for. I didn’t see any — when I was quickly looking through there — I didn’t see anyplace that appeared to me to be created for a single entity.”
McBurnett said there would be additional occupants within the CID as the area developed, as LakePoint is looking to bring in more businesses for its retail areas. He also said he wanted the LakePoint developers to talk to the Luv’s Truck Stop and other area businesses, such as Enforcer, to see if they would want to be part of the CID. Bass Pro Shop, McBurnett and Pettit believed, was not going to be part of the CID.
Council member Brenda Tidwell said she was also concerned about financial transparency in how the CID’s collected tax dollars would be spent. She questioned if the city was allowed to see such information.
Pettit said the city should be able to see financial documents based on the council appointing two members to the CID board. He believed the presence of two council appointees would trigger the state’s open records and open meetings laws. Tidwell, and McBurnett, wanted it made clear in the CID’s bylaws that the city would have access to the financial records.
Council member Ed Brush said it was unlikely LakePoint would spend money in an inefficient manner. He pointed out that LakePoint would essentially be taxing itself over the first stages of development and it had a vested interest in developing the CID area so it could attract new businesses. Mayor Al Pallone agreed.
McBurnett said the main advantage for the city approving the resolution is the CID would have the ability to build infrastructure and improve its area at no cost to the city. Under state law no CID may use city tax dollars, affect the city’s bonding or have the city take on debt to help finance a CID project. All construction is done according to city regulations and permitting procedures.
At the end of the meeting, McBurnett urged the council to research how a CID functions and look at other CIDs around the state. He said he would be contacting those municipalities to ask them about their experiences in setting up their CIDs and what they might do differently. No CID, Pettit said at the beginning of the meeting, had failed. However, he added, some did not live up to their founders’ expectations.
Lowry, Brush, McBurnett and Pallone all agreed the CID was a good idea long-term.
“You know, I agree with it in the long term, this is absolutely a no-brainer,” Lowry said. “The whole operation’s a no-brainer. I guess my concern is short term.”
Short-term concerns in setting up the CID were shared among the entire council. McBurnett said he was concerned about getting the CID off the ground and working through the permitting process required to start LakePoint’s construction when he was working with a small staff.
“In hindsight, would I rather have 100 percent of the money at all time? Yes. Would I rather have had some of the commitments that they said they would give us in writing? Yes. But in the end we still control it. Remember that,” he said.