TAD referendum breezes to victory

Columbus voters overwhelmingly approved the referendum to allow the city government to exercise redevelopment powers to create tax allocation districts.

With all precincts reporting and all early votes counted, the referendum passed 23,627-16,144, or about 59-41 percent.

“We’re very excited. It’s a big win for the city, obviously,” said Mayor Teresa Tomlinson. “We can’t wait to use it to improve parts of the city.”

Supporters of the referendum say it will provide a way to attract developers and investors to blighted areas by issuing bonds that can finance improvements that will pave the way for development.

The redevelopment law will allow cities or counties to establish tax allocation districts. In these districts revenue bonds are issued to remedy infrastructure and environmental problems and other issues that might keep potential developers at bay. The renovations pave the way for investors to develop commercial and residential projects that increase revenue and can create jobs.

The extra tax revenue created by the development is used to repay the revenue bonds for the life of the TAD, usually about 30 years. Then the extra revenue goes into city and school district coffers. During the life of the TAD, the city and schools receive the same property tax proceeds from the district that they would have received otherwise.

Probably Georgia’s most oft-cited TAD project is Atlantic Station in Midtown Atlanta, built on the site of a shuttered Atlantic Steel mill.

The mill closed the mid-1970s, the site sat unused for more than 20 years.Atlanta created a TAD for the site in 1999, part of which helped pay for a new bridge connecting the development to Peachtree Street traffic and for environmental cleanup.

The TAD also helped finance sewer lines, roads and sidewalks that made it attractive to developers and investors.

The result is a thriving 138-acre mixed-use development that has been called the “poster child for TADs.”

All 50 states have some form of tax increment financing laws available to cities and counties. In Georgia, 70 cities and counties have passed legislation akin to the referendum Columbus just approved.

Tuesday’s referendum was the second time the issue was placed before voters here. In 2007, voters were asked the same question and by a slim 51-49 margin they said no. That referendum was in a special called election and only about 11 percent of the voters turned out. The issue was defeated by just 253 votes.