Sumter County Board of Commissioners and Board of Education have not come to agreement

Published 1:30 pm Friday, January 15, 2021

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The Sumter County Board of Commissioners met for their monthly work session on January 12, 2021. In closing the meeting, the BOC, along with County Attorney, Kimberly Reid, held a conversation related to the PILOT payments to be made by Americus Solar. PILOT payments are payments in lieu of taxes. As the name suggest, Americus Solar will be making an upfront payment for the services being provided to them from the county. Often the county will benefit because the payment is made upfront allowing the county to have dollars accessible for local use. Since PILOT payments tend to be lower than the tax rate, the industry receives a benefit by a PILOT structure. A PILOT structure is often made as an incentive to potential industry, making locations more attractive to the industry. The initial PILOT payment to be made by Americus Solar is approximately seven million dollars. Following the initial payment, Americus Solar will be making a payment of approximately $650,000 per year for the next 19 years. Rusty Warner, of the Sumter County Development Authority, is tasked with recruiting businesses to Sumter County. In offering further explanation on PILOT structures, he reports the PILOT is only on personal property. In the case of Americus Solar, the “personal property” is considered the panels which convert the sunlight into energy. Real property (the land upon which the farm is located) will be taxed at 100% by differing bodies, just as a resident’s property is.

According to Interim Chairman, Mark Waddell, Sumter County has been actively searching alternative funding sources and the solar industry is a good fit for rural Georgia and in particular, Sumter County. “We have been looking for industry to come into Sumter County in order to help the county by generating revenue in lieu of increasing taxes. The energy is clean, proven and the southern part of the state sees a lot of sunshine.” Waddell went on further to add they have been courting new industry for some time. The county is not privy to some of the same benefits a municipality might receive, such as a hotel/motel tax, as often hotel/motels are located within the city limits. Americus Solar, the firm looking to add value to the tax base, will be doing so by rezoning the property’s designation. Since the zoning designation has changed, the taxes generated by having a solar farm will increase, increasing the county’s revenue and potentially saving the tax payor from seeing their property tax rate increased. To prepare for Americus Solar, the county is already providing services to them as they have invested county resources into the project.

According to Waddell, in making a PILOT payment to the county, Americus Solar requested the Board of Commissioners (BOC) designate funds to be gifted to the Board of Education (BOE). The BOC took the request to heart and determined to gift $300,000 to the Board of Education. In a motion made in 2020, the monies were offered to the BOE. However, the BOE has not responded to the offer. Americus Solar was hoping to know of an agreement between the two governing bodies prior to 2020 closing so they can go forward with their efforts. There is concern the BOE will contest Americus Solar’s bond, putting the industry, and therefore the tax dollars generated, into jeopardy. Since BOC members have changed from the members who voted upon the initial proposal, the 2021 BOC made and passed another motion for the same proposal of $300,000 being gifted to the BOE. The BOC as well as Americus Solar is hopeful the BOE will respond in a timely manner so progress will not be stalled. Waddell was not certain but felt the proposal was initially made in early fall of 2020.

Meanwhile, in a BOE meeting held months ago, a letter from the BOC, written by George Torbert was read. Some BOE members expressed they had personally reviewed the offer with various lawyers and the analysis was the same among the lawyers. The BOE member reported the attorneys advised the members that the BOE has no legal standing to demand more of the PILOT payment. Since the initial reading of Torbet’s letter, there has been no further discussion on the matter in open session. The Americus Times-Recorder will continue to monitor and report on the status of an agreement.