The board voted 3-2 at its most recent meeting not to give an additional tax incentive to the company, which plans to expand its current facility in Rockmart.
The vote, according to a number of county officials, was only a courtesy vote and does not change earlier agreements that binds the school board with other local governing entities concerning tax incentives for local industry.
Board members Frank Plant, Harold Lumpkin and Tommy Sanders voted not to give the facility a tax abatement for their expansion, while members Dr. Harold Wingfield and Regina Roberts voted for the tax incentive. Board members Beth Warner and Bettie Faye Lewis abstained from voting.
Members Guy Rutland and Chairman Rick Lundy were absent from the meeting.
Warner explained later that she was confused about the motion and would have voted yes if a second vote had been taken.
Additionally, Karolyn Hutcheson, Polk County Chamber of Commerce president, explained that the school board had five days to object to the tax incentive proposal before it was brought up at the board meeting.
Hutcheson stated that no one on the school board objected within the five-day notice.
The proposed 100,000-square-foot expansion of Jefferson Southern would cost roughly $25 to $30 million dollars. The expansion would create 60 new jobs and produce roughly $2 million in taxable revenue for the local governments.
Dr. Billy Pack, Polk School District superintendent, suggested earlier in the meeting that the board grant the tax abatement to the plant. Jefferson Southern was being considered as a candidate for the tax abatement on their expansion project due to an agreement with the Polk School Board of Education, along with other governmental entities, signed in June 2000.
The agreement, explained by Polk School District attorney Mike York, granted Jefferson Southern a reduction in taxes for 20 years. The reason behind the agreement was to promote economic development in Polk County.
Larry Dooley, Polk County Development Authority president, said in a later interview that as soon as the 20-year tax incentive was up, Jefferson Southern would pay taxes just as other local businesses and industries do.
“Some people think that a tax incentive is forever, but it isn’t. Tax incentives last only for a limited time – and they are given only to encourage industries to come into Polk County and create needed jobs here,” said Dooley.
Polk County is not alone in granting these tax incentives to large corporations. Other counties in Georgia, as well as other states like Alabama, grant short-term incentives as well.
Wingfield, filling in for Chairman Lundy, opened the table for discussion on the matter at hand.
Lumpkin voiced his concerns. “There are two things I want to say. Nobody at the Chamber of Commerce office has been elected and to my knowledge, no one on the Polk County Development Authority is elected by the people. So when we send people out to give our tax dollars away they ought to be representatives for the people. So we’ve got people out here that don’t have to answer to any of you people [referring to the audience] but they have the right to say ‘You don’t have to pay any taxes, but you do’…that’s the most unfair and asinine concept.”
Lumpkin went on to state that he supported the idea of bringing new industry into Polk County, but had some concerns about what the impact would be on local residents.
“I know that we’ve got to bring industry into the county, but by bringing in new industry into this county are we bringing it in on the backs of the taxpayers and property owners?”
He also stated that before the discussion about the tax incentive was over, he would like to make a motion that would notify the Polk County Chamber and the Polk County Development Authority that “we [the school board] no longer want to participate in this [the agreement signed in June 2000].”
“There is a good possibility,” Lumpkin said, “that even with the proposed SPLOST passing, we may have to go to the property owners again and raise their taxes. And it would be hard for me to say to a property owner –that ‘you’re going to have to pay more taxes’ when a company is spending $100 million dollars… and at the end of the 20-year tax incentive agreement they can pick up and leave and go to another county.”
Plant voiced his opposition to tax incentives. “I never have been and never will be in favor of tax incentives. I agree with Mr. Lumpkin in that we need to be fair with every taxpayer. I think that if industries want to be a part of this community…that the industries should pay their fair share of taxes. If you can’t give tax incentives to everybody, then you shouldn’t give them.”
Lumpkin later made a motion to nullify the agreement made in 2000. The motion was seconded by Plant.
The motion failed by a vote of 4-3.