The Atlanta Board of Education has joined the call for the Development Authority of Fulton County to stop granting tax breaks to developers within city limits, citing the impacts on the Atlanta Public Schools budget.
With its Oct. 5 resolution, the school board echoed a similar resolution issued last month by the Atlanta City Council. The resolutions are part of an ongoing controversy about where tax abatements are appropriate and what authority should cut bond-issuance deals that enable them.
The school board resolution calls for such deals to be made only by Invest Atlanta, the city’s own development authority, and in accordance with a recently adopted city plan focused on policies to create middle-income jobs and affordable housing and to support small businesses.
The resolution says that tax abatements in the city should be made by Invest Atlanta “for equitable distribution of development across Atlanta to ensure investments are made for every Atlanta Public Schools student to graduate ready for college, career and life.”
Invest Atlanta — whose board of directors includes Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms — last year itself told the DAFC to butt out of tax abatements in the city. The school board also gets representation on the Invest Atlanta board, a privilege it does not have at DAFC, as noted in the resolution. The school board’s representative on the Invest Atlanta board is Michelle Olympiadis.
Former APS Superintendent Meria Carstarphen was one of the city’s most vocal critics of DAFC tax abatements and briefly served on the DAFC board in a period when it made some transparency reforms.
The fundamental concept of tax abatements is attracting developers with short-term property tax reductions in exchange for the long-term benefits of their projects that otherwise might not happen. The heart of the controversy is that many abatements go to luxurious projects in such hot real estate markets as Buckhead and Midtown, where it appears that projects would be built without any incentive. That is exactly what happened with a Buckhead office tower that last year was rejected by the DAFC for a tax abatement — the first such vote in memory — and is now leasing.
Like the City Council, the school board specifically cited the DAFC’s Aug. 25 approval of tax abatements valued at over $11 million for three projects, including two in the hot areas of Atlantic Station and the Atlanta BeltLine. Also mentioned were recent tax breaks for two Buckhead projects: a luxury apartment building and a hotel at the high-end Phipps Plaza mall.
Al Nash, CEO of the DAFC, previously said that the City Council resolution “does not tell the whole story” of benefits from tax abatement deals.
“During these unprecedented times, it’s even more important for us to look for ways to solidify and strengthen our partnership to ensure economic development continues within the city of Atlanta and Fulton County,” Nash said when the resolution was introduced.
Nash recently announced his retirement.