Riverwalk numbers not adding up
by Nikki Wiley
January 09, 2014 11:48 PM | 3805 views | 5 5 comments | 33 33 recommendations | email to a friend | print

From left, Development Authority of Cobb County chairman Clark Hungerford, developer John Williams and Tad Leithead, Williams’ consultant and Chairman of the Cumberland CID, wait for the Cobb County School Board’s decision on Williams’ proposal for tax abatements for his Riverwalk Project. <br>Staff/Kelly J. Huff
From left, Development Authority of Cobb County chairman Clark Hungerford, developer John Williams and Tad Leithead, Williams’ consultant and Chairman of the Cumberland CID, wait for the Cobb County School Board’s decision on Williams’ proposal for tax abatements for his Riverwalk Project.
Staff/Kelly J. Huff
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CUMBERLAND — The consultant for a $103 million mega-development getting a hefty tax break touted the project’s job creation numbers, even though Cobb officials said the multiuse project didn’t create the 25 jobs needed to get a subsidy.

The 250 apartment units and 10-story office tower that make up Riverwalk will create 293 jobs that are new to Cobb, said Tad Leithead, consultant for the Riverwalk project, in an email obtained by MDJ under the Georgia Open Records Act.

And that’s a “conservative” estimate, said Leithead, who also chairs the Cumberland Community Improvement District.

Riverwalk financial backer and real estate mogul John Williams founded that district.

To get tax incentives from Cobb County, including waivers of permit fees, Riverwalk needed to create 25 jobs and give a $500,000 economic impact to the county’s tax digest.

But Riverwalk won’t create any new jobs for Cobb, according to emails by Cobb Finance Director Jim Pehrson.

Still, the Development Authority is forging ahead with a lucrative 10-year graduated tax break at the recommendation of Cobb Chairman Tim Lee, who also happened to chair the county committee that denied fee waivers.

Leithead says the project is worthwhile, despite the concerns of the county.

County, consultant differ on job numbers

Leithead told Michael Hughes, director of Cobb’s Office of Economic Development, in an Oct. 9 email the development would create 400 new jobs, 150 being new to Cobb.

That’s 38 percent new jobs.

To get to that number, Leithead assumed the building would be occupied at 250 square feet per person and used that number to calculate the number of jobs in the building, which is 400.

He then assumed 38 percent of the jobs would be new to Cobb, based on his application that said 400 new jobs would be created.

“That math lead (sic) us to the calculated projection of 293 new jobs, which we believe is conservative,” Leithead wrote in the email.

But Cobb Finance Director Jim Pehrson argued in a Sept. 30 email to Hughes that even the 25 jobs needed to get county incentives would not be created.

Pehrson originally provided an estimate that included a $44,406 employee impact to Cobb County. He later said there would be no new impact.

“I know the added employee count is in question and my assessment is that no new employees would be added,” Pehrson wrote in an email Sept. 30 to Hughes. “Because of this, I would not be in favor of recommending offering an incentive as I do not think the current ordinance would allow such an offer.”

Court hearing set for today

The Development Authority’s tax break has drawn the ire of the Cobb Board of Education.

The school system filed an official objection with Cobb Superior Court intervening in the validation of bonds the Authority wants to take out to underwrite the tax abatements.

At a Tuesday school board meeting, board members unanimously decided to delay action on an offer made by the Development Authority providing $139,299 in property taxes during the three-year construction phase of the development.

Usually, developers receiving tax abatements are not required to pay any taxes, even those assessed on the raw land, while construction is ongoing.

Instead of accepting or rejecting that offer, the school board will request a court continuance in hopes of reaching a settlement with the Development Authority.

A hearing is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. today in Courtroom M before Senior Judge Michael Stoddard. The Development Authority and school board have been granted a continuance to Jan. 17. Stoddard may consider arguments from members of the public at today’s hearing.

Comments
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Mike In Smyrna
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January 10, 2014
The whole concept of giving tax breaks at the county level to create (local) jobs is fuzzy math. Unless, a new business occupies the space, you are not creating a new job.

A developer builds a 10-story office building and the space is leased to whoever will pay the rent. There is no guarantee that the employees working in a building will live in Cobb County. Their paychecks may well be spent in Douglas or Paulding County.

To the defense of Mr. Williams, he has done nothing wrong. He is a businessman trying to make a profit. To the naysayer, do you complain when your 401k loses money? If your investments do not perform, do you sell? Do you take income tax credits?

From Kennesaw
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January 10, 2014
Typical tale. This is not the first time. If it wasn't finally exposed in the MDJ, we would never know. The politicians really do not care. They just tell us it will be great for us in Cobb, and in the end - it isn't at all.
Just Wait
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January 10, 2014
This real issue is the county and the Chamber trying to keep Williams happy. The tax payers of Cobb, the school board and everyone else be damned. What Williams wants, Williams gets.
COBB CSI
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January 10, 2014
The Cobb county commission has no constitutional right to void school taxes what has happened is been illegal for years social media is bringing all these shady deals to light. John if you can’t afford the project with your own money than get in line with all the other Democrats looking for handouts; don’t let the screen door hit you in the butt crossing Chattahoochee river take your carpet bag with you.
noseriously
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January 10, 2014
If TAD's were found to be unconstitutional then it stands to reason that any school tax abatement is in the same category.
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