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Dale Taylor speaks during Thursday's forum

City discusses tax abatements

By Michael Butler

The business of offering tax abatements has become a recruiting tool for governments at all levels. Last Thursday, local officials and concerned business members convened at Tallassee City Hall to give input on a tax abatement request for a proposed retail project. The meeting lasted approximately two hours.

WMJSHR Investments of Dothan is looking to build on a nine-acre tract of land on Highway 229. The group has requested a city sales tax revenue grant of 1.5 cents on every 3 cents of each dollar in sales tax to the city totaling $1 million over ten years.

Leisa Finley, executive director of the Elmore County Economic Development Authority, discussed the option for the city council's consideration.

"The developer here is taking on the risk. They would not ask the city for any upfront costs," Finley said. "They would come in and build a center and store and the city shares the revenue."

The anchor store mentioned is Marvin's Buidling Materials, an Alabama based company with 28 locations in the state.

Finley spoke of a GAP analysis indicating $6 million in leakage within 20 miles of Tallassee for product lines offered by Marvin's. "It's money that's leaking out of your city and going different places. We're trying to capture and not hurt existing business."

Godwin's Flowers owner Lamar Godwin gave his thoughts on the study. "I could probably come out with some statistics that I'm as sexy as Mel Gibson, but it's probably not going to hold up."

Dale Taylor of Tallassee True Value, a hardware store with a 21-year history in Tallassee, stated that the products in his business and Marvin's stores are "98 percent" the same. Still, Taylor's issue was not over bringing in another competitor but the tax abatement.

"Everything that was put into that small school house was hard work," Taylor said of his location that originally housed Jack and Jill nursery. "Don't give them $100,000 per year. I busted my behind to get to where I (am) off of my work, not tax abatements."

"Do I get retroactive?," Gene Lawrence stated. Lawrence and his son David spoke about their two Super Foods grocery stores. "I spent in excess of $2 million on both sides of the river. I spent $178,000 out of my pocket to get the Dollar Tree, not with a sales tax. I asked for $78,000 for sewage. We weren't granted that."

David Lawrence at the platform with Leisa Finley and Watson Downs looking on

Attorney Dale Segrest also chimed in. "The city was awfully backwards in not (putting in that sewage)," he directed at Lawrence. "but just because the city was backwards in the past is not a good reason to continue to be backwards. The competition that this city is in is with other cities. Our redevelopment authority needs incentive plans that it can offer, so Tallassee is the most competitive in recruiting businesses."

Watson Downs represents the developer. "We're expected to put into this project roughly $2.5 million straight out of our pocket into your community just to get the center up and running," he said. "The objective is not to put other stores out of business."

When Downs was asked by city councilman Charles Blalock if the proposed project would be dead without incentives, Downs replied, "Yes."

Finley talked about a plan that the city of Wetumpka put together in its recruitment of Lowe's, a $1.2 million upfront bond issue. "They had five years to pay back what they were rebated," she said.

Tallassee is currently bringing in approximately $3.8 million annually with its share of sales tax revenues.

"I don't think the city should be in a place to pick winners and losers," David Lawrence of Super Foods stated. "Competition is good for us. It helps us grow and be better retailers. We've never asked for incentives. I hope Marvin's sees Tallassee as an opportunity to grow but on an equal playing field."

Coucilman David Stough said the $1 million incentive was probably too high but that something had to be done. "Do I think we're going to be opening a can of worms? Yes. Competition is what America was built on. We've got to take some action. Cities, counties and states are doing it. All we're going to have here is small town Tallassee forever."

Randall Huey explained about the dynamic of small business and bigger corporations. "We have more and more of these retail stores and they don't give back to the community. It's going to be detrimental to the independent business man."

Brad Parker of Parker Tire and Service Center spoke about locally owned "mom and pop" businesses. "All of that money stays here," he said. "We made a decision. We wanted to stay here. We are the backbone of this community. We want to see it grow and prosper."

"Come on Marvin," Godwin added. "Come in here and work hard. Don't get the ball and run down hill with it."

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