Brookhaven City Council on July 29 approved a resolution putting “redevelopment powers” for the mayor and City Council in the hands of the voters on Nov. 4.

According to City Manager Marie Garrett, Rep. Mike Jacobs approached the city to see if it wanted redevelopment powers, and then a bill was approved by the General Assembly, allowing the measure to go before Brookhaven voters. The ballot will read: Shall the Act be approved which authorizes the city of Brookhaven to exercise all redevelopment powers allowed under the “Redevelopment Powers Law,” as it may be amended from time to time?

What do redevelopment powers do?

If approved by voters, the law would give city officials the authority to use certain kinds of economic development tools, such as tax allocation districts, and to create authorities with the power to issue bonds to finance real estate development.

What are tax allocation districts?

According to the Georgia Municipal Association’s website, the Georgia Redevelopment Powers Law gives cities the ability to sell bonds to finance redevelopment in a specific area, which is called a tax allocation district (TAD). The website states: “When using a TAD, a city designates a specific geographic area that has the potential for redevelopment, but which suffers from blight or other ‘economically or socially distressed’ conditions. As public improvements and private development take place in the area, the taxable value of property in the TAD increases. The city collects the total revenues, putting the increase in revenues as a result of new development into a special fund to pay off the bonds that financed the public improvements, while the remainder goes back into the city’s general fund.”

A citywide vote is required to give the city the powers, and voters will vote either “yes” or “no.”

What do supporters say?

Councilman Bates Mattison indicated during the July 29 meeting that redevelopment powers could be beneficial in revitalizing specific areas of the city, such as the Buford Highway corridor. “TADs are an important economic tool to stimulate the redevelopment of Buford Highway,” he said.

Architect and developer Jack Honderd, in a guest column on page 7, writes that he’s voting “yes,” partly because, while private developers can build buildings and businesses to help revitalize an area, the public realm creates the adjoining parks, multiuse paths and the city’s vision for itself.

What do opponents say?

Opponents say a TAD is only needed for depressed cities. In a press release announcing the formation of a committee to oppose the ballot initiative, local lawyer Catherine Bernard wrote, “The Redevelopment Powers Law is a huge, complex piece of legislation designed for ‘socially and economically depressed areas’ — not vibrant, growing communities like Brookhaven. This referendum would mean more debt, more taxes, more bureaucracy, and more inefficient government control and cronyism at the expense of residents and taxpayers.”

Brookhaven financial planner Chad Boles wrote in the Sept. 5-18 edition of the Brookhaven Reporter that redevelopment powers can lead to corruption.

“Development Authorities don’t publicly display their financial statements and neither will ours,” Boles wrote. “It is municipal off-balance sheet financing. Comprehensive Economic Development Plans are at best a suggestion. Tax Allocation Districts (TAD) are identified, and vague plans without financing strategies are delivered as a wish list. Future city leaders who are in high school now will obligate your tax dollars in real estate without a public vote. Redevelopment Powers are a petri dish for political corruption.”