The Gainesville Board of Education is discouraging construction of any multi-family developments within a newly established tax allocation district on the west side of the city.
This focus could help the school system manage enrollment growth, which is already pushing officials to consider constructing a second middle or high school in the years to come.
Annexations into the city, coupled with years of strong residential and commercial growth, has grown enrollment at both Gainesville middle and high schools higher than 1,800.
“We as a school system, for the last 15 years, we’ve reacted to annexation and the growth of the city, sometimes without having a seat at the table,” Superintendent Jeremy Williams said at a meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 19.
Board member Heather Ramsey said the 344-acre Westside TAD should focus on renovating dilapidated shopping centers rather than residential areas.
“We just need to be careful that there’s a balance between the available funds and the amount of (new) students,” she said, adding that city officials need to be aware of potential consequences and challenges for the school system produced by new residential growth.
TADs are ostensibly designed to spur redevelopment and raise property values.
After establishing a baseline of property taxes owed, any increments resulting from an increase in property value is pumped into the TAD account and reinvested in improvements.
According to the city’s website, “In simple terms, the increased property taxes that would be generated by a development’s improvements are temporarily used to fund those improvements. Once the improvements are paid for, a development’s taxes are then distributed traditionally.”
The Westside TAD includes 170 parcels, or about 3 percent of the city’s tax digest, such as Lakeshore Mall, stretches along Browns Bridge Road, Atlanta Highway and Pearl Nix Parkway.
But board member Willie Mitchell, who cast the lone dissent against the TAD, said calls for redevelopment in Gainesville’s minority and lower-income neighborhoods have contributed to an affordable housing shortage.
The Westside TAD boundaries include several homeless shelters and public housing units, as well as small mom-and-pop businesses that could be pushed out one day.
“I really don’t trust it,” Mitchell said of TADs, adding that the “devastation” he saw in midtown when the former Atlanta Street public housing complex was redeveloped became apparent when the school system saw a dramatic uptick in the number of homeless students.
“That’s the thing that’s scary about it,” Mitchell said.
The multi-family guidelines was just one of seven considerations the board approved to direct its stake in the expansion of tax districts across Gainesville.
“What we are trying to do is get ahead of it,” Board Chairman John Filson said.
These kinds of tax abatements, such as what funded Atlantic Station in midtown Atlanta, which was officially opened in 2005, can exist for decades before local governments begin to break even or see a return on investment.
That length of time caused some consternation for school board member Andy Stewart.
“Atlantic Station is fully developed,” he said, “but the TAD is not closed out.”
Other guidelines approved by the board, including a call to abolish a TAD that overlays midtown Gainesville before considering the implementation of a new tax district, will give new oversight to the process, as well.
For instance, this provision will ensure the school system is able to “collect tax revenue before future TADs are added,” Filson said.
Stewart agreed that with the Westside TAD now in place, it is imperative that city officials close out the midtown TAD before any new tax districts are created.
Stewart said he had spoken about the impact TADs have on schools with members of the Atlanta Public Schools system, and that he was advised to ensure the board of education has principles in place to guide its decision-making.
The Board of Education has three seats on the TAD committee, which also includes city management and planners, Hall County officials, and representatives from the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce.
“Hopefully, this allows us to do that,” Stewart said of the conditions the board approved.
The board also called for a historical accounting of prior TAD approvals, including requestor, project amount and TAD funds awarded; a comprehensive and historical review of tax digest exemptions, including entity, initial year of exemption, category and current exemption amount; that the city partner with the school system to identify new school sites; the exploration of new police precincts near future or existing Gainesville City School campuses; and a commitment to collaboration to align city priorities and workforce development opportunities with Gainesville High School.
Filson said he hopes the guidelines the board approved will also direct the decisions of future city council and education leaders when it comes to financing TAD projects.