October 1, 2008

Small Towns Grow Despite Weak Economy The Power, Impact of Amendment 3 Could It Fuel Growth Across the State Without Burdening Taxpayers?


ATLANTA -- There might be fewer yard signs and commercials for a technical-sounding constitutional amendment than for the campaigns of Barack Obama, John McCain and congressional candidates, but its impact could still be significant on the state.

Both those for and against Amendment 3 agree that the ballot measure could have a broad effect on the future of Georgia, either by sparking development in forgotten corners of the state or by giving developers unprecedented power to build no-risk subdivisions and retirement communities.

Of the three proposed amendments going to voters in November -- the others deal with forestland preservation and special tax districts often used for urban revitalization -- the last one is perhaps the most controversial.

For proponents, all three measures work together, giving rural and urban areas a way to draw increased business activities while still making sure the state has natural beauty in reserve.

"Voters will have a unique opportunity this November to help jump- start our economy while protecting our environment," said George Israel, president and CEO of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, which is coordinating joint efforts on the three measures. "The combination of these three ballot initiatives means thousands of new jobs and billions of dollars in investment across our state."

Environmentalists, though, are hoping to break the coalition when it comes to Amendment 3 dealing with "infrastructure development districts," which critics call "private cities."

"Except for the people that stand to benefit from it, nobody really wants it," said Neill Herring, a lobbyist for the Sierra Club.

The question might be whether anyone is paying attention.


Supporters say infrastructure development districts, or IDDs, are little more than a new way of financing the installation of water and sewer systems, roads and other amenities.

One of the main selling points: The measure would help draw developers to more remote areas of the state by making sure the projects can be supported without further burdening taxpayers.

Essentially, a developer could use fees charged to homeowners to finance infrastructure bonds, saving cities and counties the cost of piping water to a development or paving roads.

"Instead of the existing taxpayers in the community having to come up with the ability to pay for that new infrastructure or for the improved infrastructure, it basically allows for that debt to be paid off by all the new users of that infrastructure," said Heath Garrett, strategist for the pro-amendment Georgians for Quality Economic Development.

Garrett said the districts, each of which would require local government approval, would allow for careful planning and guarantee environmental safeguards. The measure requires 20 percent of any development to be green space and bars septic [email protected], (678) 977-3709.

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