County Commissioners discussed two items of note during their agenda session Thursday morning—an "interlocal agreement" between the Hamilton and Walker County Sheriff's Offices to coordinate on anti-gang initiatives and a 10-year tax incentive plan for downtown housing developments.
Boyd Patterson, coordinator for the Chattanooga Area Gang Enforcement (CAGE) task force, told commissioners that partnering with Walker County would be "just the next step" in recent combined efforts of city, county and federal law enforcement agencies to target and suppress gang activity in the Chattanooga area. Along with sharing gang-related information, law enforcement officials would be allowed to cross state lines to work only on CAGE-related issues.
As Patterson made his presentation to commissioners, Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond stood by his side to signify his support of the proposal.
"Gang members do not respect county and city lines," Patterson said. "… Each county will be responsible for funding operations that emanate from within their own county. This is not going to cost us a dime."
Patterson said that recent gang suppression efforts in Northwest Georgia had pushed active gang members closer to Chattanooga. He added his hope that the agreement with Walker County would be "extremely beneficial" to both counties over the next three to five years.
Many commissioners vocalized their endorsements for the proposal, and Chairman Larry Henry said he felt "confident" the group would pass the resolution in their meeting next week.
The commission also discussed a proposal relating to the granting of incentives to develop "workforce housing" in downtown Chattanooga. If approved, the resolution would allow developers to enter payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) agreements with the city as an incentive to take on high-dollar projects that would potentially revitalize portions of downtown.
River City Company CEO Kim White told commissioners that the program was "not a tax abatement" and would freeze property tax rates for development projects for 10 years. Taxes going toward schools would still be collected.
White said that in order to be approved for the incentive program, River City Company would have to agree that any project in question would bring a projected 60 percent increase in value to the portion of the city it was being proposed in. White added that the zone for which projects would be eligible for the program had been "pulled back" to not include portions of North Chattanooga that had benefited from recent similar agreements.
Commissioners expressed hesitation over a portion of the agreement that said they would have 21 days to approve or deny a project that had already been given the go-ahead by River City under the proposal. Commissioner Joe Graham said that although he wanted to support the measure, a "blanket agreement" on the part of the commission concerned him, and he added that all projects should be "vetted publicly" by the commission before being given final approval and being granted PILOT status.
"The only way we have a say is if we disapprove," Graham said. "I believe that each PILOT agreement needs to be brought before this body and vetted publicly … I think it needs to be worded so that each PILOT agreement comes before this body for final approval."
Other commissioners expressed confusion over White's labeling of the housing projects as "workforce housing," suggesting that earlier descriptions of the program benefitting "low- to moderate-income" housing projects as being vague.
"If we're simply allowing other, more affluent people to make money at the expense of the masses, that's a concern," Commissioner Warren Mackey said.
Henry advised White and her attorney to return to the commission to discuss the resolution before the group puts it to a vote next week.
"I'm sure we got several issues addressed, but there probably will be more before next Wednesday," he said.