Tax watchdog group doesn't approve of $6 million bonds for downtown - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Tax watchdog group doesn't approve of $6 million bonds for downtown

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By Len Kiese - bio | email

ALBANY, GA (WALB) - Efforts to revitalize Albany's city center are at the center of a heated debate between Albany leaders and a tax watchdog group. The Albany Dougherty Inner City Authority wants to secure $6 million in bonds to spur development downtown but the Dougherty County Taxpayer's Association isn't buying the idea.  

"It's terrible timing," said Richard Thomas at a Dougherty County Taxpayer's Association meeting Tuesday afternoon.

It's the $6-million question--whether to use $6 million in bonds for downtown development. "I'm looking at what that $6 million can get downtown," said ADICA Board Member Phil Cannon to the concerned group.

"It's not just the economic development of downtown. It's development of the whole county," said Albany City Commissioner Bob Langstaff.

The Dougherty County Taxpayer's Association says no to the $6 million question and they're concerned. "It's a two prong concern. Number one, we're concerned that the city of Albany is about to encumber the taxpaying citizens to the tune of $6 million bond issue that they're going to pour into downtown that has already failed on $150 million in investment and second, they tried to do it by waiving all accountability to the public citizens," said Thomas.

Now that the whole issue is out in the open, Thomas wants to stop it from moving any further for now. "We're in the midst of a historical recession, worst since 1929. People are struggling. Why is the city continuing to fritter away more money into what two-thirds of this community considers to be a failed downtown revitalization effort," said Thomas.

Bob Langstaff and Phil Cannon defended the bond decision at a meeting with the tax group. Cannon says the millions of dollars could help change the view of downtown. "We must use the money wisely. It goes back to using $6 million to get $10 million in returned value," said Cannon.

Many developers haven't seen the value in coming downtown due to problems like old buildings. The city will use the bond money to help developers invest without too much financial risk, thus increasing new businesses and traffic downtown.

"How do you get people to downtown Albany? You get people there by doing a residential type project and that is what we believe to be one of the primary issues and therefore one of the issues we are attempting to attack with this bond issuance," said Cannon.

"You're going to have to get at least $1,000 a month. There's no way in the world downtown Albany will support $1,000 a month," said one concerned taxpayer Tuesday.

Members of the taxpayer's association aren't convinced. "We at least ask them to defer it for at least a year until the economy begins to recover," said Thomas. But the city says they have to act now to get downtown going once and for good.

Commissioner Bob Langstaff admits a lot of money has been spent on downtown but the city has to find a way to bring private money downtown. The Taxpayer's Association worries about accountability when it comes to ADICA spending those dollars.

The Association also questioned why the bond issuance deal was passed without requiring a yearly audit of that spending. City leaders say ADICA will receive a financial audit.

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