Stephens Co. Looks to Start Public Facilities Authority

Stephens County is beginning an effort to create a new authority that could potentially serve as another way for local governments to borrow money needed for projects.

Tuesday, Stephens County Commissioners unanimously approved a motion to begin the process of creating what is called a Public Facilities Authority.

The Stephens County Development Authority brought the proposal before commissioners.

Stephens County Development Authority Executive Director Tim Martin said a Public Facilities Authority would just be another “tool in the tool chest” for both local government and economic development purposes.

“This brings to the arsenal the ability to contract with the private sector on projects,” said Martin.  “You could have public-private partnerships that the local authority does not have the authority to do.”

Martin said the Public Facilities Authority could also be used by the county government, city government, or school system as a way to finance projects through forward funding.

Officials said the financing would be exempt from taxation at potentially low interest rates.

However, local governments are not obligated to go through a Public Facilities Authority.

Right now, Martin said there are 19 such Public Facilities Authorities throughout the state.

He said other communities have used this mechanism in a variety of ways to finance projects.

Those include purchasing emergency vehicles in Washington County, Georgia and putting solar panels on a building roof in the Dublin-Laurens County School System, said Martin.

The Public Facilities Authority board would be the same as the Stephens County Development Authority board, which includes the Mayor of Toccoa, Stephens County Commission Chairman, Toccoa-Stephens County Chamber of Commerce Chair, and two at-large appointments made by the county commission.

In doing that, Martin said that creating or maintaining a Public Facilities Authority would not require any start-up or operational funding from the city or county.

Martin said the Public Facilities Authority would simply act as a conduit in the financing process.

Stephens County Administrator Phyllis Ayers said it just gives the county another option for borrowing money when needed.

“That authority would actually borrow the funds for the government and we would actually pay the (Public Facilities) Authority back,” said Ayers.  “We would still shop around.”

Toccoa City Commissioners also approved a resolution of support for the Public Facilities Authority at their meeting on Monday.

During discussions on the topic, some city commissioners expressed a desire to see a city appointment on the board to accompany the Mayor.  Also, Vice-Mayor Andy Pavliscsak expressed some concerns about producing a tool that could actually create debt and asked who would be obligated to pay the debt.

However, Pavliscsak said that after speaking with City Commissioner-Elect Jeanette Jamieson, who is taking his seat in January, he could support it, and city commissioners approved that resolution of support unanimously.

A Public Facilities Authority can only be created by local legislation passed by the Georgia General Assembly and signed by the Governor.

With the city and county go-ahead, Martin said State Rep. Dan Gasaway can introduce that legislation in January at the start of the General Assembly’s session.