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Acuity discussions hit snag
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Discussions between Acuity Brands and the county on incentives for its planned renovations and expansion in Rockdale hit a bump in the road Tuesday morning when the Development Authority of Rockdale County, the financial vehicle for the county's economic development efforts, balked at approving part of the incentives package that had been offered to the company.

Mayor Randy Mills said afterwards he was optimistic things could be worked out. "Hopefully good minds will come together and put this thing to bed. We've got a couple days. I'm optimistic the community can get this done."

Development Authority Chairman Mike Sullivan said at the outset of the tense meeting he understood there were confidentiality agreements in place, but there had been not much information given to him or to the rest of the board about the incentives package and what the Development Authority board would be asked to approve. "We start digging into it. There are some problems with it, as far as I'm personally concerned."

"We represent a whole lot of folks - 80,000. If we do this, their taxes are going to go up," said Sullivan.

Development Authority member Roland Vaughn said he thought the tax abatements offered were for improvements and future development, not for currently existing property. "I applaud Acuity for proposing a good deal for Acuity," he said. "But I cannot support what's in front of us today." He expressed concern it would set a prescedent that other large companies existing in Rockdale would seek to also be awarded.

Members Gerald Rakestraw and Rick Simons echoed Vaughn's thoughts.

Acuity's Vice President of Human Resources Dan Goldblatt said, "You've made it clear. We don't have a whole lot to say to that. This was a one way directional conversation."

Rakestraw replied, "That's what we received as well. We received it as a one way directional conversation."

Goldblatt replied, "That's not the way we received it. We had a conversation with the folks that were empowered to make those decisions."

Rakestraw pointed out that the authority to award tax abatements rests with the Development Authority.

The incentives package, offered in August, included full tax abatement, or exemption, for five years on property and equipment. Over the next five years, that exemption would gradually ramp back, with a 100 percent at year 11. According to a study by Robert Lann Consulting, commissioned by the Development Authority, the incentives would mean a difference of $1.6 million in taxes the county collected over 10 years and a $2 million difference over 20 years. School tax abatement was not included as part of the incentive package.

Conyers-Rockdale Economic Development Council Director Marty Jones wrote after the meeting that the Acuity expansion with the incentives proposed, would have a $950,000 positive impact on Rockdale County Revenues over ten years and the school system would have a positive impact of $2,900,000 over ten years.

"That is just short of 4 million dollars to help fund both our County Government and School System over the next ten years," Jones wrote.

The negotiations were carried out through the state's economic development arm.

Jones said he, Commission Chairman Richard Oden and Mayor Randy Mills were bound by confidentiality agreements. But he said he would take responsibility in that he should have asked Acuity for leeway to inform Development Authority Chairman Mike Sullivan.

Sullivan said, after the meeting, that while many might assume Chairman Oden communicates with him, Oden was also bound by and followed the confidentiality agreement.

Oden, when contacted by The News after the meeting, said he had received the Memorandum of Understanding only last Friday and that it was Jones' role as the director of CREDC to keep the board informed. He also pointed out that Post 1 Commissioner Nesbitt is the vice chair of CREDC and Mayor Randy Mills is the chair of CREDC.

Nesbitt and Post 2 Commissioner JaNice Van Ness, who both attended Tuesday's meeting, said they had been unaware of the package and that Oden had been the commissioners' point person on that.

Regarding the portions of the incentive package that the county would offer, Oden said, "It takes a board vote to say go. Richard Oden cannot unilaterally make any decisions on the board of commissioners' actions."

"We've got to take a look and talk with the state economic development and is it fair for the taxpayers."