School board will look into the effects of tax breaks for Riverwalk development
by Nikki Wiley
December 10, 2013 12:24 AM | 2265 views | 3 3 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The Cobb Board of Education plans to discuss Wednesday a tax break for a wealthy developer’s $103 million project that could take away needed revenue from county schools facing an $80 million shortfall.

Riverwalk, a mega-development to include 236 condos, 14 three-story townhomes and a 10-story office tower, could soon be on the receiving end of a property tax subsidy from the Development Authority.

The development is planned for an area near the site of the new Atlanta Braves stadium in Cumberland.

The project didn’t meet the county’s requirements of creating 25 jobs and contributing $500,000 to the tax digest, but the Development Authority, which is chaired by Vinings Bank executive Clark Hungerford, husband of Cheryl Hungerford, a deputy superintendent for the school district, is moving ahead anyway with waiving property taxes. It has the authority to act on its own when offering tax abatements.

Cobb Board of Education Chairman Randy Scamihorn says the board will talk about the development at its meeting and could pass a resolution favoring or opposing the project. The meeting is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Wednesday at 514 Glover St.

“Does the board want to take action and what are our options? Or do we just want to do nothing and let the community form its own opinion?” Scamihorn said.

The two parcels that make up the 7 acres of undeveloped land are currently valued at about $6.1 million for tax purposes, according to the Cobb County Tax Commissioner’s website. That raw land generated $46,433 for the Cobb School District in 2013 and $26,803 for the county.

If developed into a $100 million development, as proposed by financial backer John Williams, the site would pump more than 15 times that amount into county coffers, with $436,400 generated for the county and another $756,000 for Cobb schools, according to estimates provided by the county finance office.

But Riverwalk won’t be paying those taxes to the schools and county government if the proposed tax abatement goes through as planned.

Superintendent Michael Hinojosa sent a letter to the Cobb Board of Assessors last week asking for a delay in action, but the board opted to move ahead.

Scamihorn said he has gotten little feedback regarding the project and is still undecided on the development’s impact on county schools.

“Right now, I don’t have an opinion, and that’s really why I’m searching for more information,” Scamihorn said. “I haven’t decided that it’s good or bad yet. It’s always good that we have businesses and business development, whether its business or office, but we certainly want to make sure that everyone gets to play on an even playing field.”

Though the large development could bring in additional tax money after the term of the 10-year abatement, Scamihorn said, that doesn’t help address the $80 million shortfall the school system faces now.

“I won’t refute the experts that say five years from now that we would really benefit from it,” Scamihorn said. “For me, that’s not the issue. The issue now is we’re so strapped with dollars can we survive that five years? I think we can.”

Hinojosa says objections to Riverwalk are likely a “moot point” and the school system likely won’t challenge the project, but he wants to be better informed about projects that impact the district’s bottom line.

“We don’t necessarily want to rehash the thing, but what were the lessons learned?” Hinojosa said.

A Cobb Superior Court judge will have the final say when the bonds go up for a validation hearing Dec. 18, giving an opportunity for the public to challenge the bond deal. If not successfully challenged, the judge will validate the bonds and the tax break will kick in as soon as the Development Authority takes ownership of the property.

Closing on the deal is expected before the end of the year.

Comments
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Just Sayin'....
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December 10, 2013
Does the board NOT have better things to do???? We are broke and they are passing resolutions that have NO weight or force behind them. Good golly, find a better use of your time.
Be Careful
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December 10, 2013
The school board is being VERY misleading on this subject.

They are complaining about "losing" $756,000 in tax money.

But they are NOT losing it because they are not getting it now, that is projected.

What they are getting now is the $46,000 a year the vacant property is generating in property taxes.

How can you say you are losing money that you're not even getting in the first place.

We need some people on the board who know how to work with finances.

One of their biggest problems is the lopsided workforce. Barely a third of the employees are actually teachers. There is no excuse for that. There don't need to be that many support positions.

No more taxes. The school board needs to learn to live within it's means instead of continuing on in this fiscally irresponsible way.
COBB CSI
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December 10, 2013
Have the PTA load up the CID meetings and picket Galleria next big show and have school children panhandle for school money. Use those old school union tactics on the Robber Barons of Cobb County they all use to be Democrats anyway.
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