Chamber leaders push for change - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Chamber leaders push for change

February 26, 2007

Albany--  Albany leaders are pushing an idea they hope will pump more money into the city to make positive changes.

They plan to ask state legislators for permission to set up Special tax allocation districts. One area that could benefit would be downtown Albany.

Kate Whiting has been a downtown business owner for nearly three years now. "It's been great," said Whiting.

Downtown is where she found the perfect fit for her store of dresses and shoes. "I see a lot of traffic down here everyday so I really don't have any complaints," said Whiting. But like many business owners, she always looks to increase business.

"Oh yeah. Things could always be better but they could also be worse," said Whiting. A boost could come from a plan to set up Special Tax Allocation Districts.

"Just kind of earmarks your tax dollars if you will," said Chamber of Commerce Director of Governmental Affairs Clifford Porter. If a majority of property owners in a district agree, they would pay more property taxes for a certain number of years, but they would directly benefit from the extra revenue.

"They would allocate certain portions of those tax collections and they would be re-dedicated to downtown development," said Porter, "they would pay a little bit extra and that would be used for façade enhancements and other infrastructure things that need to be done."

Porter says property owners have given good feedback on the plan. Many view it as an investment. "We believe all the businesses here will see a definite return on their investment with increased sales which is actually going to bring about more jobs and more development in the area," said Porter.

That investment in Albany business sounds good to Kate Whiting. "If we see improvements, people will want to ride down here and want to look at the improvements and possibly want to shop in all these stores and eat at our restaurants and enjoy what downtown has to offer," said Whiting.

That's something the area could be offering soon if the General Assembly approves the plan. If approved, then Dougherty County voters would have to approve a referendum. That could come as early as next year.

That tax allocation district plan is just one item on the Chamber of Commerce's legislative agenda this year, an agenda they'll promote at the capital on Tuesday. Tuesday is Metro Albany Day in Atlanta. Local economic development leaders support eliminating the state sales tax on energy consumed in manufacturing.

They also want to revise Georgia's Certificate of Need laws that limit competition in health care. Another big item is the Consumer Choice for Television Act which would change the current system of local cable franchising.

"What we're looking to do is kind of have an aggregate in the state so that there's kind of a one-stop shop for cable companies. We believe that it will increase competition among cable companies and then increase for the most part the services that consumers will get in the area," said Porter. The bill would group Georgia counties together. Right now, each county negotiates individually for services.

Here's a look at some major capital projects city leaders hope lawmakers will approve.  Most would benefit education. They want 10.8-million dollars to construct Building K Albany Technical College. It would house several programs and a library. Local leaders also want lawmakers to allocate 4.7-million dollars for renovations of two halls at Albany State and 1.8-million dollars to allow Darton College to acquire the Albany Museum of Art building.

The Chamber also supports more money for the widening of State Route 133.

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