Business owners in Covington’s downtown business district and Washington Street commercial corridor will be able to save on their income taxes if they create two or more jobs and follow a few other steps.
Those two sections of town were recently named an opportunity zone by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, according to a June 29 letter addressed to Mayor Kim Carter.
The opportunity zone is another step in city officials’ efforts to revitalize blighted areas of the city.
"This was yet another step in our Urban Redevelopment Plan aimed at helping the business community. It’s taken us two long years hammering away at some of our blight problems and we’re starting to see some results," Carter said in an e-mail to the media and city council. "This was a great victory for Covington and my thanks to (Planning Director) Randy Vinson for his technical expertise and persistence and the Covington Redevelopment Authority for their thoughtful work together."
Under the Georgia Job Tax Credit Program, businesses can receive a $3,500 tax credit per full-time job created, which can be applied to a business’s income tax liability and state payroll withholding for up to five years, as long as the jobs continue to exist. The positions can experience turnover but must not be eliminated. In order to be eligible a business must be in the opportunity zone and must hire at least two workers for newly created positions, who each must work at least 35 hours per week and make at least $21,580 per year.
The opportunity zone designation is retroactive to Jan. 1, 2010, so a business can be eligible to receive tax credits if it already added two positions this year and maintained them.
Job tax credits were already available in Newton County, but the requirements for them were much stricter. According to a brochure for business owners on the DCA website, a business in Newton County would have previously had to create a minimum of 10 jobs in a single year and only received $2,500 worth of income tax credit per job. The credit could not have been applied to payroll withholding tax. In addition, the business would have had to "engaged in manufacturing, warehousing and distribution, processing, telecommunications, broadcasting, tourism, (or) research and development." This will remain the situation for businesses outside the opportunity zone.
The opportunity zone designation expands the business description to include any lawful business, namely retail businesses.
The downtown business district and Washington Street commercial corridor were chosen because they are within a census block that has a 15 percent or greater poverty rate. The DCA requires this because the opportunity zone program is designed to revitalize blighted commercial, industrial and adjoining residential areas, not necessarily promote development in new areas, according to a letter to the DCA from former Rep. Barry Fleming, who passed the bill in the 2008 session. The opportunity zone provides state tax incentives, on top of the local incentives awarded by urban redevelopment plans or enterprise zones. Covington has a urban redevelopment plan, not an enterprise zone.
The opportunity zone contains the Walker’s Bend subdivision off Ga. Highway 81, which is supposed to be a mixed-use commercial and residential development. The Covington Redevelopment Authority is focusing its purchasing and rehabilitation efforts to transform this subdivision.
The opportunity zone designation will last until 2020; the city can chose to renew their opportunity zone before June 29, 2020. Covington’s opportunity zone is the 34th such zone in the state.
Applicable business owners seeking more information should call Dawn Sturbaum, in DCA’s Community Development and Finance Division at (404) 679-1585. They can also visit DCA’s website, specially the opportunity zones web page at dca.state.ga.us/economic/DevelopmentTools/programs/opportunityZones.asp.
For a map of the opportunity zone, visit www.covnews.com.