Originally created 08/07/02

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To join or not to join? That is the question facing Augusta leaders regarding the CSRA Unified Development Authority.

The Richmond County Development Authority, chaired by state Sen. Charles Walker, D-Augusta, has in the past opposed entry into the 11-county regional authority on grounds that it could usurp the autonomy and revenues of the local authority.

The main mission of any industrial authority - regional or local - is to recruit industry to the area. City Administrator George Kolb favors going regional because that would allow Richmond County to qualify for an extra $500 in state tax credits for each new job recruited to the county.

Richmond currently offers $2,500-per-job credits in most of the county and $3,500 in the less developed areas. Membership in the regional authority would boost those figures to $3,000 and $4,000, respectively.

But Richmond County Development Authority attorney Jerry Dye has told the Augusta Commission that the area best suited for industrial development in south Augusta is not eligible for the maximum tax credits.

Dye is also concerned that if the local development authority joins the regional authority, they'll step on each other's toes to the detriment of Richmond County. This is because, Dye says, the regional authority can float bonds to compete with the local authority - that Richmond County could, in effect, end up subsidizing industrial development outside the county.

In nine years, however, the Unified Development Authority has never written an industrial revenue bond, says Andy Crosson, director of UDA's administrative arm. The unified authority, says Crosson, takes a "hands off" approach to any county's economic development pursuits.

The authority was formed to take advantage of the state's extra $500 tax credit and "that's the only reason anyone joins," says Crosson. There is no entry fee. Each member has two representatives on the board of directors and counties can quit their membership anytime they wish.

There have also been no complaints from Columbia or other member counties about their participation in UDA.

Dye says there are other reasons why Richmond County should not join the unified authority, but he can't go public with them for now. Perhaps, but unless he can come up with more compelling reasons to stay out than he so far has, then it looks to us like there's much more to be gained than lost in joining UDA.