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Staff file photo / Catoosa County Manager Alicia Vaughn sits beside Catoosa County Attorney Chad Young in a 2019 file photo.

Catoosa County, Georgia, is recommending approval of local legislation to create a public facilities authority, which county attorney Chad Young said will give the county the ability to engage in tax-exempt bond financing for public facilities projects.

The county held a called meeting Feb. 9 to vote on a resolution asking the local delegation of the General Assembly to introduce local legislation to create the authority.

Commissioner Vanita Hullander requested at the commission's Feb. 2 meeting that the resolution be tabled to give the commission more time to understand the purpose of the authority, to which many citizens expressed opposition.

Young said public facilities authorities do not have the ability to tax and cannot issue debt in the name of the county.

The only type of debt the authority could issue is a revenue bond, which requires a stream of revenue that matches the payments that have to be made on the bond.

Normally a special purpose local option sales tax, which is approved by public referendum, would be the stream of revenue used, Young said.

The board also could designate revenue from a reserve — such as its capital projects fund, to which the commission recently transferred more than $3 million from its general fund after passing a new fund reserve policy — to pay off debt for a specific project.

The authority would need the approval of the board of commissioners to issue any debt, however.

"This public facilities authority probably isn't going to have any line items in your budget," Young said. "It's not going to have any income. It's really not even going to meet except once a year unless or until you have a project."

Young said the authority would fall under the county's audit and would have to follow all the county's purchasing policies and procedures.

The authority also has other capabilities unavailable to the board of commissioners.

For example, if the county decides to declare a building surplus, it is required to hold a public auction and accept the highest bid. The public facilities authority would have the ability to negotiate a private offer that is approved by the board of commissioners, Young said.

Commissioner Jeff Long said the authority could be used to finance already approved special purpose local option sales tax projects such as a workhouse and fire station.

Catoosa County Public Information Officer John Pless said the intent of the legislation is to fund future projects, but it potentially could be used as a funding mechanism for projects that have already been approved.

Commissioner Charlie Stephens was the resolution's only nay vote.

"I've listened and I've done my homework, [to the] best of my ability, and I have questions, still," Stephens said. "If I'm not sure about something, I can't give a legitimate vote."

Hullander said she is for legislation that will save the citizens money, which Young said the authority has the ability to do through lower interest rates on bond financing.

If passed by the General Assembly, the legislation would need to be signed into law by the governor.

Next, the board of commissioners would need to set up the authority's policies, procedures, bylaws and rules it would follow and appoint the authority's members, Young said.

Contact Emily Crisman at ecrisman@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6508.

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