Mayoral candidate Colin Martin outlined a plan Thursday to expand the local economy and thus the city’s tax base as a way to address the Columbus Consolidated Government’s perennial budget woes.
The plan he announced includes “connecting citizens with jobs,” creating a tax abatement zone along Victory Drive and South Lumpkin Road to encourage further tourism and retail development there and reducing the burden on current taxpayers by privatizing some city facilities such as the Columbus Trade and Convention Center.
“Two weeks ago I introduced a plan for empowering out law enforcement agencies to reduce crime,” Martin said. “As I have campaigned throughout Columbus, voters have been clear that while reducing crime is critically important, growing our local economy and stabilizing city revenues is an equally high priorities.”
Martin suggested that expanding Metra routes to the Muscogee Technical Park would help workers without transportation connect with jobs. He also suggested that employers tell him that they have trouble finding workers with “soft skills,” such as showing up to work on time and dressing appropriately.
“I want to find a way to help the people learn those skills so that when go into the job market they’re employable,” Martin said. “Most employers are train folks for the jobs that are available, but they need people who have those soft skills and are ready to work.”
Martin said creating a tax abatement zone along the southern end of Veterans Parkway, Victory Drive and South Lumpkin would take advantage of the growth already going on.
“It’s become a tourism district,” Martin said. “The major tourist attraction in our area is Fort Benning and there are others off of that. There’s the National Infantry Museum, the Civil War Naval Museum, the Civic Center, Whitewater, obviously. So it is a natural area to focus on because there’s growth going on there already because of the assets already there.”
The city needs to expand the economy so current taxpayers are not asked to shoulder the entire load.
“What I want to do is to create a broader base of taxpayers in the economy, have people invest in their properties to raise property taxes,” Martin said. “Also, I want more people to have jobs, which will allow them to spend more, as our city has become more and more dependent on sales tax revenue.”
Martin is the sole challenger to incumbent Mayor Teresa Tomlinson in the May 20 election.
Tomlinson said her administration has already enacted much of what Martin is proposing, such as tax abatements for the Victory Drive, Cusseta Road and South Lumpkin Road corridors. She has also urged changes in the occupational tax and said the only property tax suggestion she has had involves a 10 percent tax break on new property transfers. As for his idea to address potential upcoming BRAC issues, Tomlinson said she meets monthly with Benning leadership.
“It sounds like he’s been reading the Revenue Review Commission’s and the Real Estate Investment Initiative Commission’s reports,” Tomlinson said, referring to two commissions she established early in her term.