Spend now - Pay later
In spite of the US being in a lingering recession, locally you would never know it if county and city spending were the measure. After a very promising start of fiscal restraint local leaders are gradually throwing caution to the wind agreeing to elaborate and costly growth plans with the county going so far as to spend money that is projected to come from future industrial taxes. Both governing bodies are already maxed out with borrowing, now they are promising money not yet earned with no guarantee it will ever be realized in extra tax revenue. The case in point is funding for a proposed industrial park close to I-75 at Exit 20. The cost to buy the 343 acre property, plus money for environmental, site and historical impact studies, is expected to reach $6 million before even a shovel full of dirt is moved. The City of Cleveland, together with the Cleveland - Bradley Chamber of Commerce, have coerced Cleveland Utilities and Bradley County to partner with Cleveland to fund the project at $2 million each. At first Bradley County, because of budget restraints, declined to become financially involved, but were persuaded to participate using money that would come from industrial taxes in the future. It must be said that neither the City of Cleveland, or Bradley County are flushed with money to pay for the project, so creative ways have been found to find money that doesn't actually exist.
A few years ago The Chamber of Commerce initiated the formation of the Industrial Development Board and the Industrial Development Bond Board for the precise reason of funding and managing industrial development projects instead of local government doing it. It was intended for the IDB to fund industrial park development using money from existing industrial park sales to fund bonds entered into by the Industrial Development Bond Board without involving or using taxpayer money. Because of this autonomy and financial independence the existing county industrial parks were handed over to the IDB to start the financial ball rolling. Since then, the IDB has sold land in the northern industrial park and possibly other parcels. The entire tract for the new industrial park once purchased would be handed over to the Chamber of Commerce run Industrial Development Board free and clear to do with as they wished just as the old parks were, and again the taxpayer will foot the bill.
It wasn't meant to be that way. Read my editorial of January 2004 here.
Let this editor be clear on where he stands as regard to the proposed industrial park. I think there are great advantages to the proposal. The obvious being attracting business and jobs to Bradley County makes us stronger, also placing heavy industry close to the interstate makes sense for wear and tear on local roads and bridges and reducing traffic congestion. Attracting industry to the best location is not the issue. Even responsible funding could be accommodated but the way these issues are addressed leaves a lot to be desired as far as taxpayer involvement.
There are nagging problems with the way the whole issue of the proposed industrial park got started and who made the the important early decisions and who was privy to possible locations, size and so forth. A number of years ago a reader of The People News approached me for the reason large amounts of property was being purchased in the McDonald area east of the interstate. It was about the time when Cleveland was looking for funding to finance the construction of a sewer extension down South Lee Highway. The reason the sewer was needed, the city said, was for the emergency use of apartments that were causing health issues. Strangely, the apartments were pulled down soon after the sewer was completed.
When the location of the proposed industrial park was made public it was revealed that the property being considered had been purchased by local businessman and property speculator, Allan Jones. The price tag now is reported to be $5 million or $14,577 per acre. It is unlikely that the undeveloped land prior to the announcement of I-75 exit and access improvements, and the proposed industrial park would have been valued close to $5 million. Jones has an estimated wealth of $500 million.
Jones is obviously no fool when it comes to making money. Being in Jones' shoes is the American Dream and should be applauded. It shows business acumen to predict and benefit from an emerging market and it may be that Jones preempted the Chamber of Commerce and IDB in location, but question marks remain.
Did Jones have insider information long before plans were made public? If he did, where did that information come from? Did the taxpayer and those that sold their property suffer as a result?
As I have said, what has transpired could be a result of business prowess or even coincidence, but questions remain in the public's mind. Also it highlights the conflict of giving non elected people representing a private company like the Cleveland - Bradley Chamber of Commerce and its associates, the Industrial Development Board, control over public works programs and the allocation of land paid for from public money. Looking back, the Chamber of Commerce being intimately involved in almost all major public projects paid for by the City of Cleveland and Bradley County taxpayer is exposing itself as not the great deal it was touted to be and possibly is a legalized rip off.
The Cleveland - Bradley Chamber of Commerce and its associates do nothing for our community that local government, elected and professional, could not do. Bradley County would be just as prosperous and great a place to live, only everyone would have a place at the table.
That's what I think. What do you think?
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