Sears was invited as a guest speaker at the Tuesday meeting of the South Rockdale Civic Association to address whether the HOST, a 1-cent sales tax that goes toward property tax relief for homeowners that claim a homestead, was "unfriendly to economic development."
The concern was, said member Elaine Nash, that HOST left the burden of keeping a reasonable millage rate for residents on commercial businesses.
"The business community is much smaller community and a lot of them do not vote. Homeowners vote," said Nash. "HOST has put an increased burden on their end of the taxes. I've noticed in the last few years, with HOST, even though there's more reassessment, it leaves them sort of isolated because it leaves the rest of the community to make sure the millage rate stays at a reasonable rate."
Sears agreed that "HOST puts business at a certain risk that it isn't at without HOST."
"But, I cannot tell this group HOST is hurting our economic development efforts. If it is, I'm unaware of it," he said. "In the 24 months that I have been doing this job, I have never had an existing company or a company we were trying to recruit mention that term... It doesn't mean it's not a threat but maybe they just don't know."
The far bigger problem is the lack of financing that new businesses are facing.
"Financial institutions went from financing that chair to not financing people that could repay," said Sears. "You almost have to have more money in a savings account in their institution than you want to borrow."
Sears said he had been given reassurances by the Board of Commissioners that large businesses being courted by the Development Council could receive expedited permitting, but that many smaller businesses faced a very frustrating procedure in trying to set up in the county.
He suggested to Commissioner Oz Nesbitt, who was in the audience, that an easy, efficient process for small business owners would make Rockdale stand out.
"Something else that could make us unique and different and people talking to people about filling these smaller vacant stores we have is if someone walks in there tomorrow looking for a business permit and he meets somebody with a smile and they say 'you need this, this, this and this.' It's easy and it's friendly and he tells everybody he knows."
For more, see the Aug. 22 edition of The Rockdale News.