Originally created 05/27/98

Authority reduces fee for school



Columbia County Development Authority agreed Tuesday to reduce its fee from $5,600 to $25 to issue $4.5 million in industrial revenue bonds for an expansion by Augusta Preparatory Day School.

The authority is allowed to collect a fee of one-eighth of 1 percent of the bond total annually over the life of the bond. On the Augusta Prep bond, the authority would have collected $5,600 the first year and about $15,000 in 10 years, said county project manager Mary Zagrodnik.

Board Chairman Mark Moseley was the only board member to vote against reducing the fee.

"Our mission is to recruit industry for the sole purpose of lessening the tax burden on the residents in the county," Mr. Moseley said. "... I don't think we did that. They (Augusta Prep) clearly are not bringing any new jobs to the county ... and they are exempt from paying all county property taxes."

Charging fees is how the authority funds itself without relying solely on the county for support, he said.

Georgia law allows the authority to issue bonds to tax-exempt, nonprofit organizations for projects to generate commerce and employment, County Attorney Doug Batchelor said. This is the first time the authority has issued this type of bond.

Augusta Prep, a 52-acre private school on Flowing Wells Road, plans to use the bonds to pay for a new middle school, athletic fields, parking lot, lower school and a $1.9 million high school addition.

Headmaster Steve Blanchard said the project would create 15 jobs over 10 years, a number Mr. Moseley does not think significant.

"If any industrial prospect were to come to us with that proposal, we'd laugh them right out of the room," Mr. Moseley said after the meeting. "I also don't know how you weigh in the fact that half of the students (53 percent) and less than half of the employees are Columbia County residents. The development authority clearly let the county down this morning."

Typically, the authority would sell development bonds to a bank, with the sales proceeds being loaned to the school.

In recent years, Columbia County has issued only one industrial revenue bond -- to assist Serta, which has a plant at Horizon South Industrial Park. Griffiths Industries, a John Deere supplier planning to locate nearby, is negotiating for a $5 million bond from the authority.

The development authority negotiated with Serta to lower the fee from one-eighth of 1 percent of $4 million annually to a flat fee of $5,000, Ms. Zagrodnik said.

"We figured out what the bond inducement fee would be over the life of the bond, discounted it a little bit for getting it up front, and they paid us one flat fee," Mr. Moseley said. "I was all in favor of doing that with the school, but I think $25 is meaningless."