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IDA targets a future without millage
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The Effingham Industrial Development Authority is putting its fiscal year 2009 budget together. But it’s what is beyond those numbers that the IDA members are targeting.

The IDA is hoping that once its many massive projects begin to come to fruition, it will no longer need the 2 mills in property taxes it receives.

Per a judge’s order, the IDA gets 2 mills, and those receipts go toward its operations. But with a closing with DP Partners on the two I-16 tracts looming, the IDA is looking ahead to a time when it may not need the millage.

“Our goal is to be more reliant on private capital and to create revenues streams outside the tax liens,” IDA Chief Executive Officer John Henry said.

The IDA and DP Partners are expected to close soon on their deal for the more than 1,700 acres straddling I-16. But there are still a few hurdles left for the IDA.

“If some of these projects materialize, we may could do away with those 2 mills,” board member Charles Hinely said. “But we’ve got to get them first.”

An all-weather access road on the north side that leads to a well  has been finished. But it’s the entrance road to the south side that has the deal with DP Partners held up.

The state Department of Transportation has had the plans for the access into the south side, off Old River Road, for nearly a month. As part of the access management plan, a turning lane into the south side is required. The south tract, the smaller of the two parcels at I-16, will be developed first.

But for DOT approval, there also may have to be answers on justification for a signal. In order to get state aid for the project, the DOT will have to approve the plans. With that, those plans may have to include such things as a pedestrian crossing.

“All we need for them to do is to say the plans are fine,” IDA project manager Ryan Moore said. “We need to keep pushing.”

Said Hinely: “This is important to us here. The DOT needs to know how important that project is to this community.”

The IDA and DP Partners have until June 30 to close their deal, and Henry said he expects DOT approval of the roadwork to be done by then.

“We’re going to get it,” he said. “It’s just a matter of timing and cost.”

Should the DOT sign off on the plans, that would start the timeline for the IDA and DP Partners’ deal for I-16. The building investment in the I-16 project, to be called LogistiCenter at Savannah, could be from $250 million to $300 million once it’s finished.

Even with DOT approval, there are no guarantees any state aid would be forthcoming, Henry said. In order to get the first planned building for the south side up, no turning lane is needed. But for the second building and the subsequent construction, a lefthand turning lane is required. The IDA could do the work without DOT involvement, at a cost of $625,000. Without the pedestrian crossing it would be about $500,000.

“The DOT has been responsive on giving us updates,” Henry said.

Under new commissioner Gena Abraham, the state DOT is reviewing and evaluating every one of its projects.

“Once that is done, they’ll identify what projects they are going to fund and which ones they are not,” Henry said.

The IDA will need DOT participation on the road work plans for the north side, including straightening out the curve on the northern part of Old River Road. The price tag for road improvements on the north side is $15 million.

Moore said other infrastructure plans, the well and the force main, are ready, and the wastewater treatment plant design is expected to be approved any day by the state Environmental Protection Division.

“We’ve been a long way and got a lot of work done,” IDA Chairman Chap Bennett said. “And now we’re down to this.”

The IDA is working on a grant application for more than $2 million in state help for EFACEC. The money was part of the state’s incentive package, but the funding requires the IDA to submit a grant request. A separate grant will be done for rail improvements.

“We’ve been trying to get our numbers together and look at what we’re spending at I-16 and EFACEC and get that into the budget,” Henry said.