The Atlanta City Council is joining the call for the Development Authority of Fulton County to stop granting tax breaks to developers within city limits, reviving a major, metro-wide political controversy that went dormant during the early months of the pandemic.
City Councilmember Matt Westmoreland on Sept. 8 introduced a resolution, co-sponsored by 13 of his 14 colleagues, calling for such deals to be provided only by Invest Atlanta, the city’s own development authority, and in accordance with a recently adopted “Economic Mobility, Recovery and Resiliency Plan.” That plan is focused on policies to create middle-income jobs and affordable housing and to support small businesses.
The resolution specifically cites DAFC’s Aug. 25 approval of tax abatements valued at over $11 million for three projects, including two in the hot areas of Atlantic Station and the Atlanta BeltLine. All three are in tax allocation districts, or TADs, where developers already get a different kind of tax break where they are allowed to keep the value of their property taxes for use in infrastructure on the site. The granting of tax abatements within TADs is especially controversial, with critics calling it a form of double-dipping that also delays the conclusion of the TAD deal.
“Tax abatements should be used to support projects committing to deeply affordable housing and projects in disinvested neighborhoods in need of middle-wage jobs, grocery stores and other amenities,” says the council resolution, whose co-sponsors include Buckhead-area Councilmembers Jennifer Ide, J.P. Matzigkeit and Howard Shook. Such breaks affect the budgets of Atlanta Public Schools and all city departments, including police and firefighters, and homeowners and renters pay an increased burden in property taxes, the resolution says.
The resolution has yet to be voted on, but its future approval appears clear given the vast majority of co-sponsors, and its unofficial political message is obvious. Westmoreland noted on social media that the council cannot legislate such a prohibition on DAFC activities, but said that “we can speak with a unified voice” about it.
“This resolution does not tell the whole story,” said DAFC Executive Director Al Nash in a written statement on behalf of the agency. He said the council fails to mention that such projects are “bringing tech jobs from Microsoft and Google when tech office space in other cities are losing leases”; that they create “more affordable housing that meets all city guidelines they have put in place”; that they may involve infrastructure improvements, such as a sewer line in Peoplestown; or that the deals mean “millions of dollars in taxes collected on blighted properties” that would have stalled due to cleanups or other challenges.
“These are harder stories to tell as they go beyond what can be shared in a tweet or a headline, so we’ve always offered to meet with city and school leaders to review the comprehensive reports we provide to their staff,” Nash said. “We want them to gain a deeper understanding of these projects, including why incentives are needed and the overall benefits. During these unprecedented times, it’s even more important for us to look for ways to solidify and strengthen our partnership to ensure economic development continues within the city of Atlanta and Fulton County.”