City applying for ‘Rural Zone’ program to spur downtown revitalization

By Tanya O’Berry

Contributing Writer

 

The Homerville City Council is pursuing a Georgia Department of Community Affairs program which will spur downtown revitalization.

If the city is approved for the Rural Zone program, it could mean more job creation, commercial investment and business activity through a series of state tax credits. 

Councilman Len Robbins introduced the opportunity for Homerville at their regular meeting Thursday at the Station #11 Depot. Mayor Willie Hardee and Councilman James McBride discussed the application, which is due in August, as a catalyst for growth in downtown, and ultimately, the community.

“This is a huge opportunity for Homerville,” Robbins said at the meeting. “In Bainbridge, it changed their downtown and community by creating jobs and opportunities. I would love for us to have the ability to do this here.”

The Rural Zone program was passed into law in May of 2017. It’s an incentive program to stimulate investment, job creation and economic development in “underdeveloped rural areas.”

Main Street Manager Laura Nipper, whose office, in conjunction with City Council and the Downtown Development Authority, is engaged in the application process, said the city stands to benefit greatly from the program, if approved.

A new business that creates jobs can earn tax credits up to $40,000 per year for a period of five years. Businesses eligible range from professional services to retail and light manufacturing, such as law offices, gift shops, breweries and bakeries, according to the information provided by DCA. Tax credits are also available for purchase and construction of new buildings in the downtown “rural zone,” and for rehabilitation of existing buildings.

Council agreed to move ahead with the application process.

In other business, council members:

• Heard a proposal from Bonnie Kelly, a retired professor from Wiregrass Technical College and owner of Grant Management and Planning, who along with five fulltime employees, write grants for first responders and road departments. Kelly told council members that the city and county are qualified for federal grants because of the poverty level., like most of rural Georgia. Her business offers a flat retainer of $6,000 per year or a fee per grant application. Council said they would consider her services. 

• Heard from City Manager Nan Mikell that no official document between the city and Met Life had been signed for the retirement plan. One will be forthcoming.

• Mikell reported the Georgia Department of Transportation had responded to the request for signage on SR 187, also known as the Thelma Highway. At the last meeting, a citizen asked for signage in the area of a deadly wreck. The DOT letter said they would “look into the matter.”

• Learned that Atlanta Pyrotechnics stated the cost of fireworks for July 4, 2021 would not increase.

• Mikell told members that Lucas Cason of Hargray Fiber wanted to consider the water tower near Clinch County High to increase access to Internet in the city. She said Cason had been asked to make a presentation to the council at a future meeting.

• Discussed Windstream fiber optic cable and the opportunity to improve the internet in the city limits and City Hall.

• Heard a request from Sue Graddy to ensure the replacement of a mobile home met city zoning requirements at the corner of Mitchell Lane and W. Forrest Ave.

• Learned that an application for a Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency grant has been lost in the mail. It has been resigned, scanned and sent again. The grant will give $380,000 for generators for the water and sewer departments.

• Refused a bid on a Chrysler 300 that was below the minimum $10,000.

• Heard from Nipper that Daylight Donuts will soon  occupy the former Shorty’s Taco building.

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