Mayor says 'Invest in Columbus'

By Laura Ann Sills - bioemail

COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - Columbus' mayor is sticking to one of her platform promises.  Teresa Tomlinson explains why she has set up a group to take a look at the city's revenue.  It could mean a change in your taxes, and a change in what businesses stay or move to our area.

Glover-Auten Food Services has called Muscogee County home since 1965.

But, over the years what they pay in occupational taxes has more than doubled, while total sales have stayed the same.  Greg Auten said, "we do feel like the reality is if we were to move our location to any other surrounding county our tax would be 15 times less."

Besides Atlanta, Muscogee is the only county in Georgia that has an occupational tax scale that works on a 10 year scale.

Greg Auten says moving a few miles away could save his company tens of thousands of dollars.

Columbus' Mayor tells us, she is taking local company's complaints seriously. "You ca not say 'well, I am sorry that is putting you out of business, but that is the way we have been doing it since 1970.' That is not an acceptable response."

Her new response is creating a commission to look at the city's revenue and decide if a restructuring is possible.

Former Senator Seth Harp is chairing this committee. "We have accountants and CPAs that will be a part of the process. Attorneys and business people, and every single one of us are residents of Muscogee County," explained Harp.  He tells News Leader Nine, he agrees with the mayor that the 21st century government must move into a 21st century tax structure.

Auten said, "If we want to hire new employees, if we want to grow, and we want to grow this business here, we are at a disadvantage, because our taxes are so much higher than any surrounding area."

Both Auten and Tomlinson agree the tax structure hinders new business from moving in and is pushing old businesses out.

"Businesses determine how many restaurants, how many dress shops, and whether those jobs are staying here or going to Harris County or LaGrange and that does affect every person in Columbus," said Tomlinson.

Along with occupational taxes, the commission will also be looking at ad valorem and sales taxes.

Two other Commissions were created.  One that will come up with a plan to invest in real estate and another that will work to stabilize and improve crumbling neighborhoods.  Both groups are made up of developers, investors, city council members, and others that can address the issues facing Columbus.

She created a commission to stabilize and improve neighborhoods that are causing surrounding property values to decrease.  Mayor Tomlinson wants a plan that could be used in established neighborhoods like East Wynnton and Oakland Park to make them more desirable and safe.

The real estate investment initiative commission will come up with a plan to develop underutilized areas, like South Columbus.

Tomlinson explained, "All these zoning fights and efforts to remain semi rural in midland is being directly negatively impacted by the fact that South Columbus is underdeveloped."

The second group will come up with strategies to start using significant land that sits vacant and under-used.

The goal is to have a report back to Columbus' mayor in 8 to 10 months.

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