Now that the Barrow County Board of Commissioners has resolved its FY2010 budget, it’s time to clean up some loose ends.
One of those should be for officials to revisit how the county uses tax incentives for businesses.
This isn’t a new issue. Late last year, Braselton Mayor Pat Graham strongly opposed how Barrow County employed tax incentives for an empty warehouse building near I-85. She rightly pointed out that the county had given the developer a huge tax break although the building was empty and not a single local job had been created.
Perhaps in the past when the county was booming that wasn’t a big issue. But in light of the fact that Barrow’s digest went down this year due to the recession and that the county is so heavily dependant on residential property for its tax base, this old policy needs to be reconsidered.
Essentially, this is what’s happening: When an industry builds in Barrow County and uses local development authority financing, it automatically gets a seven-year phase-in on its property taxes. That saves developers hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The problem is, Barrow sets no threshold for giving away those tax breaks. Most counties require a developer to guarantee a certain level of job creation before an incentives will be considered, or that the project be of a certain size. Barrow does not.
That means that local homeowners are subsidizing large developers, even when those developers build empty buildings that don’t create jobs.
In this new era of bare-bones government budgets, that simply doesn’t make sense. It’s impossible to tell exactly how much money is at stake here, but over time it amounts to hundreds of thousands of tax dollars that developers save that are having to be paid by local homeowners.
A review of the current policy should be done by the BOC and some standards set before the county gives away large tax incentives. Barrow County’s geographic location is not some isolated community that has to beg for business. Framed by I-85 and Hwy. 316, Barrow is in a natural growth area for industries.
So why does the county give away so much tax money for incentives that are unnecessary?