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JDA to pay off debt with Facebook deal
Facebook data center
An artist's rendering of the Facebook Newton Data Center in Stanton Springs industrial park near Social Circle. - photo by Special to The Covington News

SOCIAL CIRCLE, Ga. - The Joint Development Authority of Jasper, Newton, Morgan and Walton Counties will, as expected, use money from the Facebook deal to retire debt and invest in infrastructure at Stanton Springs.

The bond and bank debts will be retired quickly after the authority voted Tuesday to do so.

In all, the authority received $17.9 million from the deal. Some secured debt was paid at closing, as were commissions and other fees. After the remaining debt is paid, the authority will be left with about $9.4 million.

That includes a $1.5 million fee for helping Facebook set up its own bonds, and that money will be moved to the authority’s operating fund. Because it did not come from the land sale, it is not subject to distribution among the four counties.

Finally, the authority will set aside $7.5 million for infrastructure improvements, mainly an extension of a road to allow additional development at the park. That represents the total amount to complete the road, but the authority is applying for state and federal grants to pay part of that cost.

The authority will vote on amending its budgets at its April meeting, but under plans discussed at Monday’s work session only $439,000 out of the Facebook cash is available for other projects at the industrial park.

Members of the authority discussed but discounted, the possibility of returning some of the $7.9 million to the counties. Members were worried if they did that and a potential land buyer wanted the road complete, the authority would have to go to the counties and ask for the money back.

Shane Short, director of the Development Authority of Walton County and a key recruiter for industries at Stanton Springs, urged the authority to budget for the full cost of the road.

“I would budget for that road, and what you don’t spend, you could give back,” he said.

Still, the windfall — and especially the $1.5 million that is not subject to distribution — will be enough for the JDA to fund its operations for years.

Kevin Little, chairman of the Walton County Commission and member of the authority, said it will be a good deal for taxpayers.

“There shouldn’t be any more money coming from the counties,” he said.

The authority discussed but took no action on, a plan to compensate member counties for money those counties spend in economic recruitment.

Short and Serra Hall, the senior project manager of the Newton County Office of Economic Development, said they spent much of their resources last year working on the Facebook deal. Their salaries are paid by their respective counties, not by the JDA.

“It did absorb the majority of our time this past year,” Short told the board.

Andrea Gray, the board’s attorney, said the board is allowed to pay for services rendered if an invoice is presented.

The JDA also agreed to absorb the largest portion of an invoice from the Newton County attorney for work on the Facebook project.

The contract work originally was estimated to cost about $10,000. JDA Chair Alan Verner and Newton County Commission Chairman Marcello Banes, who also is a member of the JDA, had an agreement that each body would pay $5,000 of the legal fees.

When the legal fees eventually grew to more than $32,000, that agreement became a misunderstanding. The Newton County Water and Sewer Authority paid about $12,000 for services on its behalf, but the JDA and Newton County each wanted the other to pay the balance above $5,000.

Finally, a private company with interests in the deal, TPA, agreed to pay $5,000 with the JDA paying the balance.

Facebook’s builder, Holder Construction, is seeking to build a 40,000 square-foot construction headquarters at the Facebook site. Originally, Newton County denied the permit for the building, which will be removed after Facebook’s construction is complete.

The building will be used for storage, office space and will have a cafeteria for construction workers.

The JDA approved the building so long as Holder builds it was a front facade that meets Stanton Springs standards and Holder agrees to remove the building within either eight years or 90 days after the last Facebook building is complete.

The building is expected to take the place of scores of construction trailers.