City of Decatur begins selling School Board on tax breaks for development
The city of Decatur wants City Schools of Decatur to join its Tax Allocation District to help pay for infrastructure improvements to East Decatur Station.
But the School Board has a few questions. School Board Chair Annie Caiola said she wants to hear from people who are critical of this kind of financing. Superintendent David Dude told her, “We have secured a financial advisor with expertise in TADs.”
Tax Allocation Districts work by setting a base tax value of property. Once that happens, any additional tax revenue over the base value is earmarked for improvements in the TAD district. The East Decatur TAD would fund $30 million worth of improvements to the property, including a storm water detention pond, which would also double as a public green space. The City Commission approved creating the Tax Collation District at its Dec. 21 meeting.
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Ken Bleakly, president of the Bleakly Advisory Group, spoke during the School Board’s June 14 meeting and explained City Schools of Decatur would still continue to collect the $409,904 it currently collects from the property, which is adjacent to the Avondale MARTA station. The tax revenue is expected to be $1.2 million in 10 years, but the school board wouldn’t see any of the increased revenue until the TAD expires. He said TADs typically last 10 to 15 years.
According to a report published on the city of Decatur’s website, development of the East Decatur Station Property “could potentially add up to 140 school-aged children over the next 15 years” at a rate of about nine students each year. The TAD contains 160 parcels totaling 54.5 acres. Here is a map showing the TAD boundaries.
The TAD includes parcels along Talley Street that the School Board purchased on June 14. CSD plans to use the property for a school. Assistant City Manager Lyn Menne told the School Board the Talley Street properties were included in the TAD because, “At the time because we didn’t know if you were going to move forward or not.”
The school board tasked Bleakly and Menne with answering some questions.
Caiola wanted to know if any of the TAD money could be used to build infrastructure for schools. She also wanted to know if the timeline for development of the property “aligns with our timeline for building a school.”
She wanted to know what percentage of school districts participate in TADs.
Bleakly had an answer for that and said the participation rate of school districts that have been asked to join a TAD is 90 percent.
School Board Lewis Jones member asked if the TAD is contingent on the board’s approval. Bleakly said the city could participate without the School Board.
Board members also asked about the dispute between the city of Atlanta and Atlanta Public Schools over the TAD used for the Atlanta BeltLine project. Bleakly said that dispute arose because the city pledged a certain amount of money to the schools, but the project was sidetracked by the recession. He said the agreement should’ve stipulated that the city would make only the payments if it collected what it projected it would receive from the TAD.
DeKalb County Schools is also being asked to consider a TAD to redevelop the former General Motors plant in Doraville. The DeKalb County School Board has not signed onto the agreement, and is facing increased pressure from elected officials in the county. Even the city of Decatur recently passed a resolution encouraging the DeKalb County School Board to sign on to the TAD, and Mayor Patti Garrett said she would encourage the Decatur School Board to support the TAD for East Decatur Station.
The Decatur School Board would have to approve a resolution if it wanted to join the TAD. The board wasn’t quite ready to do that at the June 14 meeting.
“I want to make sure we’re hearing from both sides on this issue,” Caiola said.