Cobb Development Authority eyes new model for determining costs of projects to cities, county

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Jun. 23—CUMBERLAND — At its Tuesday meeting, the Development Authority of Cobb County discussed changing the model it uses to analyze the fiscal impact of economic development projects on the county and its cities after criticism from a board member about software the authority has used in the past.

{p dir="ltr"}Nelson Geter, the development authority's executive director, presented an update on models the board may use instead of LOCI, software the authority has used to evaluate the fiscal impact of past projects. Board member J.C. Bradbury has criticized previous fiscal analysis reports for what he considers a lack of objective analysis from LOCI compared to other tools.

{p dir="ltr"}"LOCI, as best I can tell, was invented by some guy who retired from Georgia Tech, invented in the 1990s, and is not used by anyone but people locally who have just been convinced to use it," Bradbury said. "We have no sort of measure of external validity of how well its projections are."

Much of the discussion also focused on whether incentives provided by the county to businesses should be included in the fiscal impact analyses commissioned by the development authority.

"When someone applies for incentives, we can require them to disclose, 'Hey, I'm planning to apply for incentives from the county as well,' so we can include that in our understanding, because I think it's important to get a holistic view as to the net benefits of the project," Bradbury said.

According to Geter, there are three types of incentives businesses may seek as they pursue funding from the authority or county: tax breaks for jobs or investments and bonds are the two the authority may provide, while separate incentives, such as the waiving of fees, can be granted by Cobb County.

At an April meeting of the authority, Bradbury complained that companies seeking incentives will request them from both the development authority and the county. He likened it to a child separately asking both parents for lunch money.

"We talked from time to time about what's the right method for us to be able to gauge the fiscal impact on any of the projects that are being done," said Clark Hungerford, authority chairman, introducing Geter's presentation.

At the end of the presentation and discussion, board members, including Bradbury, were pleased with Geter's initial proposals.

"I think this is a really good sort of first deep-dive to show, hey, here is what other people are offering," said Bradbury.

When the board reconvenes in July, Geter plans to provide a more in-depth comparison of different models the authority may consider using.

In other business, the development authority heard from members of the Cobb Veterans Memorial Foundation, which requested $100,000 for the first phase of the veterans memorial set to break ground next month near the Cobb County Civic Center. Representatives of the Memorial Foundation touted the potential economic benefits the memorial could offer as a tourist destination. However, the authority's board members were unconvinced by that argument.

Board member Karen Hallacy proposed that the authority grant the foundation $50,000, the same sum they previously provided for the planning phase of the project. Her proposal passed unanimously.

"Maybe we have a measured approach to this over time," said Hallacy, "because we've already contributed 50 [thousand] and we could do another 50 and just have a look at and say, how is the community responding to this."

Donna Rowe, development authority vice chair, recused herself from the vote on the grant, as she is president and CEO of the Cobb Veterans Memorial Foundation.