Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

Council Tackles Economic Incentives Plan

Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

Council Tackles Economic Incentives Plan

Article excerpt

TUSCALOOSA | More than three months after it was suggested, the City Council appears to be moving forward with a new, citywide economic incentive policy.

The changes reflect rights and permissions granted to local governments in the early 2000s by the Alabama Legislature and brings Tuscaloosa's policy more in line with those of other large cities across the state.

City officials also contend that the changes are necessary to make Tuscaloosa more attractive to potential developers.

"The changes to the (Alabama) constitution (give) the city a lot of flexibility," said City Attorney Tim Nunnally during last week's meeting of the council's Public Projects Committee. "And it gives the city policy the same breadth that state law allows it to have."

Essentially, the changes allow the city to offer tax rebates -- from sales taxes to property taxes, for example -- to developers of large scale developments that meet a certain set of standards.

Those standards are not defined. Rather, they will be determined on a case-by-case basis by the mayor, other city officials and representatives of the Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama, which recently entered into an annual $175,000 contract to act as the city's economic development team.

This looser policy, which is laid out over two pages, is in direct contrast to the city's current, 20-plus page policy that sets strict definitions on regulating a number of aspects, including which types of developments can apply for the assistance and the exact documents a developer must produce to even be considered.

Additionally, the current policy limits the city's economic assistance options to economic development loans, which would come directly from city coffers, and infrastructure improvements.

Councilwoman Cynthia Almond questioned why the standards are inexact and whether an incentive deal could be reached without the consent of the City Council.

Mayor Walt Maddox, a proponent of the new policy, said the council would always be notified -- and an amendment to the proposed policy will now guarantee this -- but acknowledged that he was unable to say exactly which standards a development would have to meet in order to qualify. …

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