Commercial development has its downside, District Attorney Ken Mauldin told the Oconee County Board of Commissioners during a recent work session.
“The more stores you have out there, you’re going to have more shop lifting,” Mauldin said.
It is a message that commissioners–and the citizenry–do not often hear as the county moves forward with its efforts to promote commercial growth.
More common is the simple message that commercial growth brings in more sales tax revenue.
Davis On Cheddar’s
In his County Talk column in the Feb. 12 issue of The Oconee Enterprise, Oconee County Board of Commissioners Chairman Melvin Davis commented on the impact of the opening of the new Cheddar’s restaurant on Epps Bridge Parkway in Epps Bridge Centre.
“Any time a retail facility opens of this size (over 300 seats), we would expect the volume of business to make an impact on sales and SPLOST revenue for the County,” Davis wrote.
“Also, the projected new growth in commercial property tax for this facility will increase the County’s revenue,” according to Davis.
SPLOST is a reference to the county’s 1 percent Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax. The county also collects a 1 percent Local Option Sales Tax, and the Board of Education collects a 1 percent sales tax.
Davis, a strong proponent of development, said nothing of the downside of the development in his column, which also appears on the county web site.
Congestion on Connector
The negative impact of development came up again on Monday night in the BOC's most recent work session.
The commissioners identified the intersection of the Oconee Connector at SR 316 and the intersection of the Oconee Connector at Epps Bridge Parkway as two of the county’s most congested.
Traffic from Epps Bridge Centre, including from Cheddar’s, feeds onto the Connector and onto Epps Bridge Parkway itself between these two intersections.
The Georgia Department of Transportation spent $13.5 million in 2009 to build that roadway to open up the land that is now the Epps Bridge Centre for commercial development.
Frank Bishop, developer of the Epps Bridge Centre, called this a kind of public-private partnership during his presentation to the Oconee County Chamber of Commerce last year.
No one has presented a balance sheet for the gains and losses from development, but Mauldin was explicit in his meeting with the Board at a work session on Feb. 18 in saying that growth and development has costs.
“The more people, you’re going to have more crime,” he said.
Commercial development particularly increases the costs to the county, he said in the video below.
“I’m not saying you shouldn’t expand,” Mauldin said, “but as that happens, there will be a cost.”
Mauldin was joined by Chief Superior Court Judge David Sweat, Probate Court Judge David Anglin, and Clerk of Superior, Magistrate and Juvenile Courts Angela Elder-Johnson at that Feb. 18 meeting in making the case for more judicial space in the courthouse.
Mauldin said Oconee County currently has about 600 cases per year, about 150 of which are felonies.
He projected that Oconee County will have about 750 to 800 felony cases in 15 years, or an increase of four fold.
He based that on cases in Clarke County and the estimate by Chairman Davis that the county’s population will be 65,000 in 15 years. The county had 34,035 residents in 2013, according to the U.S. Census Bureau projection from the actual count of 32,815 in 2010.
For Davis’s projections to be correct, the county would have to nearly double its population in the next 15 years.
Even without growth, Mauldin said, his office needs more and better space than it has.
“Our space right now is really not functional or adequate in any respect,” Mauldin said.