State, local leaders confer on progress
by Clay Neely - email@example.com
Members of the Georgia Municipal Association's Hometown Connection met Tuesday at the Newnan Carnegie Library to discuss the current economic developments in Coweta County, the legislative agenda, and the ongoing issues and opportunities happening at the state level.
Newnan is one of about 50 towns across the state participating in the Georgia Municipal Association's Hometown Connection project. Through Hometown Connection, GMA seeks to bring state level officials to cities and towns across the state — familiarizing them with what mayors and councils do and how municipalities function.
Newnan Mayor Keith Brady presided over the meeting along with City Manager Cleatus Phillips. State Senator Mike Crane, State Representative Lynn Smith, and State Representative David Stover were in attendance along with members from the Georgia Municipal Association: Catherine Flemming, Tom Gehl and Justin Kiron. Also present at the meeting were Newnan City Council members Cynthia Jenkins, Ray DuBose, Bob Coggin and George Alexander.
Phillips began the meeting by engaging in a rundown of all the recent economic activities happening in the Newnan and Coweta areas, such as the ongoing construction of the new city public safety complex as well as the University of West Georgia’s Newnan satellite campus.
Both projects are scheduled to be completed at the end of 2014, with an expected enrolment of 1,500 students for opening day at UWG-Newnan in the spring of 2015. “We wanted to make sure that if we made this investment in our education, it would be able to touch the lives of our citizens who wanted a higher education,” said Brady. “We want to bring an education to those who want an education without having to leave town. That’s what’s going to bring an exponential type of growth.”
Phillips spoke in regards to the attempt to use the transportation fund to allow the extension of McIntosh Parkway to run from the area of the Cancer Treatment Centers of America at Southeastern hospital to downtown Newnan.
“We have recently made a grant application, seeking a grant of more than $3 million. I saw the grant request list and it was pretty extensive, so any help with our application would be greatly appreciated,” Phillips said. “We are in a strong position regarding the matching funds. We believe it promotes economic development due to its proximity to downtown. We’re ready to go straight to construction. We think we have an attractive project.”
Phillips also addressed a new roundabout intersection planned for the Five Points area at Martin Luther King Jr. Drive/ East Newnan Road/Poplar Road/Turkey Creek Road and the interchange on I-85 near the Health South and Piedmont Newnan Hospital area. The projects were discussed in regards to a possible timetable. “We may be five, six years out. It’s a long process,” Phillips said.
“We also want to enhance the aesthetics of our interchanges. To us, that’s the first perception many people may have of Newnan and Coweta when they arrive initially,” said Phillips. “We want to enhance that and were just notified that the Gateway grant that GDOT offers is coming back and we will go after that money very aggressively.”
“Go to Sewanee and Alpharetta. They have beautiful interchanges and make you feel that you’re entering into a beautiful place. That’s what will draw companies down here and make them feel good. The cigarettes butts don’t help,” said State Representative David Stover.
“Litter is a disservice to economic development and the lack of is an enhancement. It’s something you’re going to hear me talking more and more about. In fact, people are going to get tired of me talking about it,” said Brady.
Phillips noted that 2013 was the first time in four years that positive growth has been seen in the Coweta area. Newnan continues to see good signs with permit activity both commercial and residential.
“The county has notified us that they are going to reassess all commercial properties next year,” said Brady.
Tom Gehl, director of governmental relations for the Georgia Municipal Association, spoke to the economic growth of Georgia and about the Georgia Downtown Renaissance Act. The act provides $20 million per year in statewide tax incentives ranging from 5 percent to 25 percent for investments in new construction or renovation within clearly defined downtown boundaries called Renaissance Districts.
The act was proposed to help create 2,500 new jobs a year across the state. “The focus of this is to focus on the key economic centers, which are downtowns,” said Gehl.
“Every city will be eligible at some level. The funds will be capped at $30 million a year. It would allow for different levels of tax credits to go to different developers and owners who apply, depending on the level of investment the city has made,” said Gehl.
Also discussed was the introduction of Georgia House Bill 176, which would limit municipal zoning authority for cell towers. The Georgia Municipal Association said the bill contains a false promise it will not adversely impact local control of the tower zoning. “By limiting what zoning boards and local governments can consider, HB 176 would override the standards used by communities to determine whether a particular use is appropriate on that property and compatible with surrounding uses,” according to GMA officials. “While HB 176 says it would allow zoning to apply, it doesn’t. HB 176 is special treatment, not equal treatment.” “This limits the rights of private property owners,” said Gehl.
“Many companies like Verizon have coverage across the state, but what they need is more bandwidth so they won’t be needing these big towers. Other companies must contract with their own towers and put up these huge poles because they have to compete.” “When does the local government come into the picture? There is a monopoly in Powder Springs being proposed that is two or three feet taller than the Statue of Liberty. The question is how do we provide that balance between need and aesthetics,” Gehl said.
Concluding the meeting were statements by Senator Crane and Representatives Smith and Stover. “My legislative priorities are dealing with less regulation. One of our partners in the business community, the CTCA, is going to hit the ceiling of regulation when they complete their expansion. The ceiling of a CON that says ‘you can’t do more.’ Those are things I want to work on,” said Crane.
“We introduced our bill (GA HB 707) yesterday to push Obamacare out of the state, so that will be an interesting discussion coming up,” said Rep. Stover. “We had a 20-minute press conference,” he said of the proposal to “ban any state employee or state entity from implementing any portion of the ACA.”
“You have to balance our budget at the state level, which is so different than at the federal,” said Rep. Smith. At the federal level, there aren’t any reality checks. We live with reality checks. We may make people mad because we have to balance the budget, but we would like to see a good effort at the federal level as well.”
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