COVINGTON, Ga. — County commissioners on Wednesday, Nov. 4, voted against backing more than $16 million in bonds for purchase and development of an industrial park near a rapidly developing area in the county’s northeast corner.
Commissioners said they could not support the county government guaranteeing repayment of $16.1 million in bonds for what some said was a speculative venture.
The bonds would have allowed the Newton County Industrial Development Authority to buy and develop a 305-acre site at I-20 and U.S. Hwy. 278 for a new industrial park called Stanton Grove.
The commissioners' 4-1 vote to deny an intergovernmental contract with the Industrial Development Authority came after the Authority voted earlier Wednesday to approve issuing non-taxable revenue bonds which a bank requested they ask the county government to guarantee repayment.
Serra Hall, vice president of project development for the Authority, told commissioners the agency's purchase of the site would allow it to control the type and quality of development in the park, which fronts the north side of I-20 at Exit 101.
She said the agency works to recruit certain types of manufacturing and non-polluting companies and does not actively seek such projects as distribution centers. Another owner would be free to bring any type of development it wanted to the site, she said.
Hall said Stanton Grove was planned to complement the type of development now in nearby Stanton Springs, which has attracted companies like Facebook and emphasizes such features as its appearance and infrastructure to recruit biomedical and data-driven companies.
Commissioner Demond Mason said the county needed to encourage economic development if it wanted to recruit companies that would help take the tax burden off residential property owners to fund services.
However, other commissioners said the land was overpriced and was too much of a risk to take on in a currently uncertain economic climate.
Commissioner Nancy Schulz said she agreed with Mason about the need for economic development but saw the county government "co-signing the loan" as being a risk she did not favor for taxpayers.
"This is a very vulnerable time," Schulz said. "We don't know what's going to happen in the next three months."
A separate agreement would have required the Authority to use funds it now has in reserve and money from future property sales in Stanton Grove to pay back the bonds, officials said.
The agreement stated the county will begin repaying the bonds only if the Authority’s cash reserves dwindle to $100,000, said attorney Frank Turner Jr.
The Authority has held a purchase option on the site for about three years. Turner told commissioners the option is set to expire in December.
An entity separate from the Industrial Development Authority — called the Joint Development Authority of Jasper, Morgan, Newton and Walton Counties — owns, manages and markets the 1,600-acre Stanton Springs park that includes Takeida Pharmeceutical Co. and a Facebook data center slated for completion in 2021.
Facebook is planning three additional buildings for the data center by 2023 to bring its investment in Stanton Springs to about $1.5 billion.