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Cobb County voters gave the Board of Commissioners another method to improve the community last month. The Redevelopment Powers Law is designed to help county government address problem retail areas that may be hurting surrounding neighborhoods. The law, approved by nearly 57 percent of residents casting ballots in the November election, will allow the county to create Tax Allocation Districts.

APPROVED: Economic Development Director said the new Tax Allocation Districts approved by voters last month will help the county redevelop vacant and underutilized properties. Once the districts are chosen, the county may set aside taxes resulting from property improvements within the districts and apply that money to defray the costs of redevelopment there. The program does not involve an additional tax on property owners within a Tax Allocation District, except to the extent improvements to their properties increase the assessed value. The program will not affect property owners outside the districts at all, officials said. Using funds to redevelop vacant or underutilized properties is the “ultimate in recycling” Economic Development Director Michael Hughes said. “We’re very interested in taking the next step where we put these tools to use,” he said.

The county will now prepare a policy statement to provide the basic guidelines of how and where the redevelopment powers will be applied. Officials expect to present the policy statement to the Board of Commissioners during the first quarter of the coming year. One matter officials hope to address is the concern by some property owners that the districts will be spread over all areas of the county. Hughes said the county will target those areas that need it the most. “We want to be very good stewards of this authority,” he said. Many businesses move to “super-store” locations in new areas, leaving behind abandoned buildings and unused parking lots.

These, in turn, can reduce surrounding property values and sometimes promote criminal activity, officials said. Since the county is 85 to 90 percent developed, it makes sense for new businesses to take previously used buildings and make use of the advantages already there, Hughes noted. “We’re at a point where we’re running out of vacant land for development,” he said. Since the revenues resulting from the law are devoted to improvements within the designated districts, property owners in those areas will receive a direct benefit.

The method, known as tax increment financing, is available in communities in virtually every state and served as motivation for owners to refurbish and update properties. Officials are using similar financing to spur residential development around Centennial Olympic Park and redevelopment of the old Atlantic Steel site in midtown Atlanta.

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