After spending some time crunching the numbers this weekend, this simple equation sums up the conclusion I have reached. And I’m not the only one reaching this conclusion.
The DeKalb Development Authority will meet this Thursday, June 18, at 8:00 a.m. at 150 East Ponce de Leon Avenue, Suite 400, in Downtown Decatur. The meeting time and location isn’t posted anywhere on the Internet. You have to call the county to get it.
The Sembler tax abatement proposal is on the agenda. There is no word yet as to whether a final vote on the tax abatement will occur at this meeting. At a minimum, it will be discussed.
Thank you to everyone who attended last Monday’s community meeting about the tax abatement. It is estimated that more than 250 people attended. I also want to thank State Rep. Fran Millar for serving as the on-the-spot emcee for the meeting, Commissioner Jeff Rader for his thoughtful remarks and for his efforts to draw the DeKalb County Commission’s attention to the shortcomings of the tax abatement, and Jeff Fuqua of the Sembler Company for taking the time to explain his company’s position to a skeptical public.
I believe the public is right to be skeptical. I have reviewed the KPMG analysis of the 20-year tax “benefit” that Sembler and the Development Authority are claiming the county government and the school system will receive if the 20-year tax abatement is granted. Courtesy of Jim Walls’ “Atlanta Unfiltered” blog (more on Atlanta Unfiltered below), you can review the document containing the KPMG analysis here (click for link).
The KPMG numbers indicate to me that the proposed Sembler tax abatement will REDUCE the county government’s and school system’s operating funds, if you subtract from the padded totals (1) the revenue that the county government and school system will receive whether or not the tax abatement is approved, and (2) the revenue that doesn’t defray any county or school operating costs. Please take a look at the somewhat difficult-to-read page 3 of the KPMG document, and I’ll show you what I mean.
First, the analysis counts one revenue source that doesn’t go toward operational (instructional) costs of the school system, but instead goes only toward school construction:
ESPLOST Revenue = $4,098,287
Also, the analysis counts one revenue source that doesn’t go to the county government or school system at all, but instead goes to MARTA:
MARTA Sales Tax = $40,982,873
In addition, the analysis counts two revenue sources that will go to the county government and school system whether or not the tax abatement is approved, because the buildings that would generate these revenues are at or near completion:
Property Tax on Non-Abated Buildings = $45,594,544
Property Tax on Personal Property of Renters = $5,761,440
None of the above sources should be counted as part of the tax “benefit” to county government and school system operations. The following sources, however, should be counted:
HOST Revenue = $36,024,362
Property Tax on Personal Property of Retailers = $5,817,997
Business Licenses = $3,185,756
When you add these three numbers together, the total of the actual tax “benefit” is $45,028,115. From that amount, the following three amounts must be subtracted:
Value of the Tax Abatement = ($51,699,253)
Cost of County Services = ($11,321,760)
Cost to Educate Children Living in the Project = ($10,990,000)
The result is a NET LOSS to the county government and school system of $28,982,898 over the 20-year life of the tax abatement. Even if you assume that the “cost of county services” and the “cost to educate” arise only from the non-abated portion of the project (which is not likely), and add those amounts back into the total, the result is still a net loss.
Worse yet, this doesn’t account for Commissioner Rader’s point at last Monday’s meeting that many of the “new” tax revenues claimed in the analysis are actually existing tax revenues that are being shifted to the Town Brookhaven project from elsewhere in DeKalb County.
Granting this tax abatement is bad policy. It will place upward pressure on your property taxes. That problem will be amplified the more often the Development Authority decides to give away the shop to developers whose projects are victims of the real estate market.
Don’t just take my word for it. Jim Walls, a former AJC investigative reporter who now runs his own blog, Atlanta Unfiltered, did his own math and wrote an article reaching a similar conclusion, albeit with a lower price tag. You can read Jim’s analysis here (click for link).
If you’re available this Thursday at 8:00 a.m., I encourage you to join your neighbors at the Development Authority meeting. It is crucial to show the non-elected, unaccountable Development Authority that the community is watching.