Column: Local growth funding bill makes 2nd try in legislature
By Maria Saporta , Staff Writer
Date: Friday, January 14, 2011
After a nearly passing last year’s Georgia General Assembly, a bill will be reintroduced early in this session to allow local communities to pass a fraction of a penny sales tax for economic development and the arts.
A coalition of cities, counties, and arts and cultural organizations, known as Georgia Communities for Growth, is pushing for a bill that would give communities unprecedented flexibility for a new revenue stream.
“The idea is to give local flexibility with local control for local initiatives,” said Joe Bankoff, president and CEO of the Woodruff Arts Center, who serves on the executive committee of Georgia Communities for Growth. “For the first time, it’s not about passing a whole penny. You won’t have to swallow a whole tablespoon. You can have a teaspoon.”
A partial penny sales tax has never been an option in Georgia, but it has been used successfully in several other states.
If the bill passes, revenues from the partial penny sales tax could be used on just about any local initiative. A small slice of the penny would be dedicated to arts and cultural organizations in each county.
Communities then could decide how much of the remaining penny could be used for parks, economic development incentives, transportation or whatever else they view as their most pressing needs.
Flora Maria Garcia, CEO of the Metro Atlanta Arts & Culture Coalition (which serves as the administrative arm for Georgia Communities for Growth), said communities are being creative with how they view the potential of the partial penny.
In Augusta, political leaders would like to see more revenues go to police and public safety.
Gainesville would like to use the sales tax to roll back property taxes.
“Every community is looking at this bill in a different way,” Garcia said. “A fractional tax is very appealing to counties.”
Fulton County, which has the largest population of any county in the state and the greatest number of arts and cultural organizations, is a special case.
It is likely that Fulton voters would only be asked initially to pass two-tenths of a penny sales tax, with 66 percent going towards arts and culture. The remaining 33 percent would be spread on a per-capita basis to the cities in the county. That “tweaking” is expected to address one of the complaints the bill faced last session.
“Everyone was amazed that we made it to the very last day and the last hour of the session,” Garcia said. This year, the same co-sponsors are expected to reintroduce the bill: Rep. Ron Stephens, R-Savannah, and Rep. Stacey Abrams, D-Atlanta.
“We are encouraged with the strong statewide support for the concepts contained in the bill,” said Virginia Hepner, chair of Georgia Communities for Growth. “We believe that the Local Growth Bill enables local leaders and voters to creatively address their priorities.”
Jim Coleman, executive director of the Macon Arts Alliance, agreed.
“The technology is now available to bring the state into a more modern era of taxation,” Coleman said. “The fractional tax empowers voters to have more control over where their tax dollars are allocated and engages voters to set priorities in their community.”
New home for Woodruff
The Robert W. Woodruff Foundation, the largest foundation in Georgia, soon will be moving to a new home downtown.
For the past 20 years, the Woodruff Foundation and its related foundations has been in the historic Hurt Building next to Woodruff Park near Five Points.
The Woodruff Foundation — along with the Joseph B. Whitehead Foundation, the Lettie Pate Evans Foundation and the Lettie Pate Whitehead Foundation — will move up the street to the One Ninety One Peachtree Tower.
“We are just moving three blocks,” said Russ Hardin, who is president of the Woodruff Foundation and its sister foundations. “It’s not a big deal.”
The Hurt building has become know as the “foundation” building not only because of the presence of Woodruff but several others, including the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta.
The former owner of the Hurt Building, Richard Courts, had been “very intentional” in getting foundations to move into the Atlanta landmark.
Five join Commerce board.
The Commerce Club board, a barometer of business power brokers in metro Atlanta, has named five new members.
They are Tim Bentsen, Southeast managing partner for KPMG LLP; Frank Blake, chairman and CEO of The Home Depot Inc.; Brad Branch, managing partner of Deloitte LLP; Robert Brown, CEO of R.L Brown & Associates architectural firm; and Douglas Hertz, CEO and president of United Distributors.
The Commerce Club also has new officers. Tom Bell, chairman of SecurAmerica LLC, is the new chairman, succeeding retired Southern Co. CEO David Ratcliffe.
Cousins Properties Inc. CEO Larry Gellerstedt III now is the club’s vice chairman. The secretary is Jeffrey Haidet, chairman of McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP; and the treasurer is Thomas Barkin, director of consulting firm McKinsey & Co.
The Commerce Club recently moved from its historic location at Five Points to the 49th floor of the One Ninety One Peachtree Tower after merging with the 191 Club.
Gate Club being formed
A group of Atlanta business leaders are seeking to start an exclusive private club at the Millennium Gate Museum at Atlantic Station.
A letter of invitation has been sent to prospective members to come to a private cocktail reception on Jan. 18 at 6:30 p.m. Membership to the “Gate Club” will be limited to 200 people.
The letter stated that membership will cost $3,000 a year, and the goal is to open during the first quarter of 2011. Its hours of operation are expected to be between 5:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
Among the Gate Club’s founding members: Rodney Cook Jr., Joel Babbit, Michael Coles, Rawson Haverty, Chuck Leavell, Pam Rollins, Jerome Russell and Lovette Russell.
ToolBank builds board
ToolBank USA, which maintains an inventory of tools for nonprofit organizations, has named two new board members: Steve Deputy, regional vice president of BlueLinx; and Robert Mason, CEO of REM Enterprise Solutions.
ToolBank USA also elected new officers: Corky Martin, product development merchant with Home Depot, is the organization’s new president; and Nick Costides, information technology executive with United Parcel Service Inc., is the new vice president.