Civic group to hold meeting
Attendees will hear how to improve county's development

CONYERS - A local civic group is looking for ways to balance the scales in what it sees as a disparity in Rockdale County when it comes to businesses and residents bearing the tax burden.

South Rockdale Civic Association is calling all other interested residents to its meeting 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, at Union United Methodist Church, located at Ga. Highway 138 and Union Church Road, to hear how to improve the economic development in Rockdale County.

The meeting starts at 7:30 p.m. following refreshments and mingling that starts at 7 p.m.

Glenn Sears, executive director of the Conyers/Rockdale Economic Development Council, will be the guest speaker.

Besides current county projects, part of Sears' talk will zero in on local hot button, the homestead option sales tax.

Under HOST, a one-percent sales tax approved by voters in 2001, the county can reduce or eliminate the county's maintenance and operations, or M&O, portion from residential property tax bills. Once the M&O in the county budget is funded, residential property owners can receive up to 100 percent homestead exemption on the county M&O portion of their property tax bills.

The county is allowed by state law to use up to 20 percent of leftover revenue from HOST collections for capital improvements but only after M&O expenditures of the county general budget are funded first.

Residents have enjoyed a 100 percent homestead exemption from HOST since its implementation. County officials have said that will end this year because of lower retail sales during the down economy. Officials said a rollback to 80 percent exemption is likely this year.

However, Sears said some people feel HOST negatively affects economic development. And SRCA president Ted Bisterfeld was one of those people.

By elimination, dishing out special tax breaks to residents requires the commercial side to fill in the revenue gaps, explained Bisterfeld.

"Naturally, the broader the tax base is, the less the burden (it) is on any one category of development," Bisterfeld said. "According to experts on economic development, HOST is a bit of a handicap to attracting new industry because the prospective industry sees that the county is pushing more of the taxation onto non-residential development."

Bisterfeld thinks Rockdale, though small in area, can maximize its resources to better attract new and sustain existing industry by suiting to its needs.

And the addition and loss of industry affects everyone, according to Bisterfeld, when taking in account less job opportunities and a dwindling tax base.

"When Rockdale County residents understand what drives the economic engine, they will urge our elected officials to favor permanent job growth over residential development," Bisterfeld said.

Sears thinks Rockdale County's strong points should not be overlooked.

"I think we have a bright future. We have numerous people looking at us in this economy," Sears said.

Bisterfeld expects the general information meeting to attract roughly 40 or so. He strongly encourages Rockdale County officials and homeowners to come.

Alena Parker can be reached at alena.parker@rockdalecitizen.com.