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Groups try to get the word out on amendment proposals
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1011AMENDAUD

Sharon Gay of McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP explains what she sees as the benefits of proposed Amendment 2.

Coming Sunday

The Times takes a more in-depth look at the three proposed constitutional amendments on the Nov. 4 general election ballot. We’ll include the exact wording of each amendment as it will appear on the ballot and a summary of what it really means.

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People came out bright and early to learn about the proposed amendments to the state constitution at a breakfast Friday morning.

The Council for Quality Growth and the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce held the event to educate the public about what their members view as the importance of the upcoming ballot referendums to the development of the state. The three proposed amendments are listed on the Nov. 4 general election ballot.

Tim Evans, vice president of economic development for the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce, said the two organizations collaborated on the event to help people understand the benefits of the amendments.

"We’re encouraging education about these ballot items ... to encourage citizens to look at these and vote yes," Evans said.

But not everyone at Friday’s breakfast was in favor of the proposed amendments. Bruce Hallowell, co-founder of the Hall County Taxpayer Association, said after the breakfast he thinks the amendments will hurt rather than help the state.

"(Amendment) 2 is the one we need desperately to defeat," Hallowell said, adding that he thinks there are a number of factors involved in the amendment that would make it less beneficial than many think.

He said in Hall County, people should be especially aware of the benefits of tax allocation districts and infrastructure development districts.

"Those districts are self-paying for those improvements," Evans said. "From a taxpayer’s perspective, I think that’s very fair."

Another amendment is aimed at protecting Georgia’s forests.

"As a package, I think this is one of the most important opportunities the state’s had in years," said Steve McWilliams of the Georgia Forestry Association.

McWilliams talked at Friday morning’s breakfast about Amendment 1, the Georgia Forest Land Protection Act.

He said the amendment would provide tax credits for people who own 200 acres or more of forest property and choose not to develop the forest land for at least 15 years, giving them an incentive to keep their property forested.

"Particularly in the last five to seven years, property values have increased around the state so dramatically. Many, many owners of large forest land, private land owners, are being faced with the situation where they’re not really deriving enough income off the property to pay property taxes," McWilliams said.

Sharon Gay of McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP talked about Amendment 2, which pertains to tax allocation districts.

Tax allocation districts allow local governments to issue bonds to finance infrastructure improvements that will bring new businesses to blighted areas.

The proposed amendment follows a ruling in February by the Georgia Supreme Court that school tax revenue cannot be used to finance redevelopment through TADs. Hall County recently approved TADs in Gainesville, Oakwood and Flowery Branch.

"I’m here to talk about getting back something we had for 23 years," Gay said at Friday’s breakfast. "All this amendment does is put us back where we were."

Amendment 3 is also an economic tool similar to tax allocation districts.

Heath Garrett of Georgians for Quality Economic Development explained the way he believes infrastructure development districts can benefit the state.

An infrastructure development district allows local government to pay for the construction and maintenance of new roads, sewers, schools or other infrastructure through bonds and private companies.

The main difference is that TADs apply to areas in need of redevelopment, while IDDs are beneficial for land that has never been developed.

"This allows for the growth to pay for itself," Garrett said.

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