In 1996 when I became mayor of the city of Pooler, we embarked on an aggressive annexation plan that would result in our city growing from 7.7 square miles to over 28 square miles in a short period of time.
We felt growth was inevitable and, instead of sitting idly by watching it happen in the undeveloped areas around us, we decided to capitalize on the opportunity. Over the next decade we saw our population almost triple, primarily through new development.
And while the vast majority of our citizens were in favor of the expansion, it was made quite clear to us as leaders in city government that existing citizens were not interested in footing the bill for infrastructure expansion to these new areas.
One of the three constitutional amendments on the general election ballot this fall deals with a proposal that proponents say will assure that cities and existing residents are not saddled with unwanted infrastructure development costs due to expansion.
If passed, Amendment 3 on the ballot would allow counties and cities to approve “infrastructure development districts (IDDs),” described by supporters as special purpose districts that give local governments a new option to pay for public infrastructure such as new roads, bridges, sewers, schools, utilities, parks and other needed infrastructure without burdening existing taxpayers.
Essentially, this “pay as you go” proposal gives developers the ability to sell tax-exempt bonds to finance and maintain public infrastructure and back them up with assessments that are proportionately allocated to each piece of property within the district.
Potential buyers would know going in that they are responsible for paying back the bonds and would be assessed a fee according to the amount of property they own within the district. This fee would be above and beyond any property taxes assessed by local governments.
In order to be established, IDDs would have to be approved by the city, county or both after being petitioned by the developer who must own 100 percent of the land within the proposed district. Included in this initial petition would be geographical boundaries of the district, names of initial board members who would represent the landowners, and a master plan identifying all projects to be constructed, the amount needed from tax-exempt bonds and a proposed timetable for construction.
Supporters of the proposal point out that local governments maintain all rights of zoning and permitting and that the developments include a 20 percent green space requirement.
Although the concept is certainly not new — currently 17 states have IDDs in place, including Florida, which has over 450 in place, many of them retirement communities — critics of the proposals have expressed concern about local governments giving taxing powers, albeit in the form of a fee, to developers. They also point out that taxpayers outside the district still have to pay for access roads and improvements to water and sewer lines to accommodate the new construction.
Environmentalists are especially concerned, fearing that IDDs will stretch Georgia’s natural resources, especially water, even further.
And while proponents claim that it will be a boon to rural sections of the state, particularly in south Georgia, critics argue that it will only add to the sprawl that already exists in the metro Atlanta area.
Despite the criticisms, some of which have some validity, IDDs add a viable option for growing communities. The idea that the expansion of infrastructure — roads, bridges, schools, water and sewer lines, etc. — will be paid for by those who use it and not be the responsibility of existing citizens or local governments is worth a “yes” vote for amendment 3.