In a split 4-1 vote on Tuesday night, the Forsyth County Board of Education approved its first-ever tax abatement proposal for a Forsyth County health care block chain company that is reportedly posed to create more than 200 local, high-wage technology jobs over the next three years.
At the board meeting, the confidential project and proposed abatement, titled Project 1925, was presented to board members by Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce Senior Technology Project Manager Scott Evans.
In his presentation, Evans said the local company currently has three local employees and is set to receive significant funding over the summer which would allow them to create more than 200 jobs with an average salary in the $200,000 range.
Due to the competitive bid process, with other possible locations being considered in Boston, New Jersey, Nevada and Switzerland, Evans could not identify the company in question. But he stated that Forsyth County is being looked at with particular interest because of the local emphasis on tech and the high concentration of tech field workers in the south Forsyth area.
“This project is really important to the community,” he said. “Primarily it should be noted for you guys that the cybersecurity program at [The Alliance Academy for Innovation] has been given great interest by the site consultant that I’m working with, because that program is a great feeder program for the talent that would sustain these kinds of jobs.”
Evans said that the growth that this company has proposed fits directly into the five-year economic development plan that the county has embarked on and by forgoing some tax revenues in the short term the system would benefit in the long run.
“We’re looking to create more of these type jobs for this area,” he said. “Our analysis shows that by offering to forego this approximately $50,000 in school M&O tax the system will actually net approximately [a] $30,000 investment in the 10-year period for these 200 jobs.”
After Evans presentation, Forsyth County School Superintendent Jeff Bearden commented to the board that in his time with the system, this is the first time that they have considered a possible school tax abatement.
Although this is the first time a school tax abatement has been considered, the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners has previously approved other tax abatements as a way of attracting businesses into the county.
Bearden said that while he did recommend approval of the proposal, as a school system they would probably need to consider developing a policy on the issue and study it further.
“I know we’re all a little bit cautious about setting any type of precedent that we really don’t want to set for the future,” he said. “But I realize that in this particular case, this needs to happen quickly and you need our approval.”
Board chairwoman Kristen Morrissey stated that in her opinion it was fitting that such a large and important project would be the first abatement for the board to consider.
“I actually like that this is precedent setting, because that sets the bar very high, that nothing would even come to our consideration unless it was a very high wage set of jobs,” Morrissey said. “We don’t foresee this happening frequently.”
Before a vote on the proposal was called, several board members had questions and comments for Evans over how the abatement would work and what its impact would be.
Board member representing District 1, Wes McCall asked Evans whether there would be any sort of written agreement between the company and the board of education or another governing body and, “What stipulations are in that agreement that protects the tax payers?”
Evans responded that the company would have a written agreement with the county and if the abatement proposal was accepted, the company would have to regularly meet goals and report to the county.
“There are what we consider, ‘clawback agreements’ that they have to meet certain benchmarks and if they don’t meet that, then the tax abatement is not given to them,” Evans said.
Under the economic development ordinance that was adopted by the board of commissioners in April 2019, commissioners have the final say for all offered inducements and businesses will be responsible for informing commissioners annually that they are within parameters of their contract with the county.
Businesses that don’t comply with sending the report would trigger “any available recoupment remedies under the contract.”
After a short discussion, McCall stated that he could not support the proposal without more information and more involvement from community stakeholders.
“I support economic development, I really do ... there’s just so much information that is not available right now and to be honest we’ve had 14 minutes to talk about this over three weeks,” McCall said. “I think that we need a process that protects the tax payer’s investments … And I think that the right way to do that is to come out with our own [policy] like the BOC has.”
Board members then voted 4-1 to approve the proposal, with McCall opposed.
After the vote Morrissey said that the chamber of commerce will return and give a more in- depth presentation on the tax abatement offer and how they reached it at a later date.