The resolution passed 11-2 with dissenting votes from 2nd District Commissioner Connie Wilson and Mel Griffith of the 6th District. J. Adam Lowe of the 4th District was absent.
“I appreciate the work of the Chamber of Commerce and the Industrial Development Board. I have supported the PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) projects that have been brought to this Commission. I have supported the work they’ve done,” Wilson said. “Saying that, I have concerns with this memorandum of understanding. I have concerns with this Commission obligating a future Commission for money in 2016 … I have some concerns with the government being in the industrial development business.”
She said she is proud of the industries that have been brought to the county through PILOT programs, but this did not ease her concerns about the county owning an industrial park.
The Commission authorized Bradley County Mayor D. Gary Davis to sign a memorandum of understanding with the city of Cleveland, Cleveland Utilities and the Industrial Development Board agreeing that the city would finance the $6 million with the city, county and Cleveland Utilities contributing $2 million. The County would not be expected to make payments until 2016. Reimbursement for the investment will be given to the entities as land is sold in the park. The agreement hinges on a certificate of public purpose from the state. All agreements will be considered void if this is not obtained.
The memorandum had been discussed at a previous meeting, in which 1st District Commissioner Ed Elkins voiced many concerns. During Monday’s meeting, Elkins said he had read the full 500-page-plus report on the project. Elkins also met with Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce Vice President for Economic Development Doug Berry.
“After reading the report and after having a lengthy conversation with Doug Berry, all of my concerns have been answered,” Elkins said. “I’m ready to support the project.”
Changes were made to the resolution to address concerns of community members voiced during Monday’s meeting. Resident Matt Bentley said he wants large truck traffic on Harriman Road limited.
According to the resolution, “commercial and industrial traffic will be restricted on Harriman Road with construction of a truck turnaround and traffic calming techniques including signage and markings.”
Trucks with more than three axles will also be prohibited. This addition to the original resolution was suggested by Bentley.
Funding was also a concern for residents.
“We have some issues with the funding of the project,” Bentley said. “We have this $2 million commitment now and once you make this commitment you will make another commitment, and I don’t think we are going to see a lot of money being brought back to Bradley County government through land sales.”
Bentley also expressed concerns about environmental aspects of the project and asked the Commission insist someone from the city, which is financing the project, have the authority to stop construction until environmental issues are resolved should any occur. This was added to the resolution and will be added to the memorandum of understanding before it is signed by the four government entities.
Residents Dan Rawls and J.J. Narus expressed similar concerns. Rawls and Narus said they felt the Commission was rushing into a decision.
Narus encouraged the Commission to postpone the vote and gather more information on the success of industrial parks.
“I think it’s a bad move right now,” Narus said. “We just can’t afford it.”
Rawls also had doubts as to whether a government-owned industrial park could be successful in today’s economy. He said the project creates a situation in which government is competing with private industry.
“The taxpayers are going to bite the bullet when this falters,” Rawls said.
He also asked where funding would come from to pay for needed expansion of schools and added law enforcement if funding was already committed.
Third District Commissioner Jeff Morelock pointed out that industry brings growth to a community, which brings in more revenue.
“This is investment in the future,” Morelock said.
Fourth District Commissioner Charlotte Peak-Jones said she had received 60 calls on this issue on Monday. She said the majority of the callers said they were in favor of the project once they had their questions addressed.
To those with concerns about the timeline of reimbursement from sale of lots in the industrial park, 1st District Commissioner Terry Caywood said securing the property ahead of time is important. He said the land for Walker Valley High School was purchased several years before the school was ever built on the property, and now it is a significant asset to the community.