JDA Seeks New Appraiser Meeting to Affirm Rivian Site’s Tax Status
MADISON, Ga. – An opposition group reportedly hired more legal aid this week in its fight against the construction of the Rivian vehicle plant while the Joint Development Authority (JDA) has pledged to challenge the legality of a delay committee of assessors to affirm the tax-exempt status of the plant site.
JDA officials also asked Morgan County Board of Tax Assessors Chair Mary Ellen Anton today to schedule another meeting to affirm the public site’s tax status after a Wednesday meeting failed to met the requirements of the Georgia Open Meetings Act and one member had a “clear conflict that obscures his ability to make an impartial legal decision on this matter.”
Keith Wilson of Morgan, Land, Sky & Water Preservation Inc. (MLSWP) said in a Facebook post Thursday that the group has hired an anonymous “litigation lawyer” who will “work in concert” with law firm Stack & Associates. focused on environmental law. he hired in January to represent him.
“While we cannot disclose the strategy, please know that the legal team is working diligently on our behalf and MLSWP is pleased to make this announcement,” Wilson said. “Together they will address the harm done to our community by the state and the JDA.”
Wilson, who is seeking election to the Morgan County Commission this year, said the JDA and Gov. Brian Kemp “have inflicted anguish on the citizens of the communities surrounding the proposed Rivian site.”
“There was surprise and shock, fear of the unknown, inability to learn facts and details, and anticipation of an opportunity to have their voices heard at rezoning hearings” , Wilson said.
He said Kemp and state economic development commissioner Pat Wilson “caught them off guard before their voices could be heard by taking the project off the local level and shielding it from local decisions” by doing from the state government the landowner.
As a result, the state government is not required to go through the zoning processes overseen by city and county governments.
“Governor. Kemp has denied these communities their right to have a voice, a treasured right granted by the Georgia Constitution, so it appears a broader legal strategy must begin,” Wilson wrote in a Facebook post.
The announcement follows two days of action by the JDA to finalize an economic development agreement with the state and Rivian on Tuesday; and to seek certification Wednesday by the Morgan County Board of Tax Assessors of a lease plan that was part of the agreement and stipulated that the state-owned land would not be taxable.
Under the agreement, the Georgia state government will purchase the land from the JDA and lease it to Rivian – which plans a $5 billion production and research facility on 2,000 acres in Walton Counties. and Morgan.
The state government, like other public entities in Georgia, does not pay property taxes on the land it owns.
However, the agreement specifies the amount the company will pay in payments in lieu of taxes (PILOT), which could total $300 million over 25 years and be shared among the four JDA counties.
Newton will receive more than $90 million of the total, as he owns about 32% of the taxes collected from JDA-operated business parks.
With the overwhelmingly anti-Rivian crowd present urging them — and against the advice of County Attorney Christian Henry — members of the Board of Tax Assessors voted to delay action, or file, the JDA’s application for certification of the council, the land will not be subject to taxation, the Morgan County Citizen reported.
Audience member Jeanne Dufort complained that the plan did not give Morgan County enough money to cover what she said were the public costs of the overall impact of the Rivian project. .
Board member John Artz, husband of Rivian opponent JoEllen Artz, also urged other members on Wednesday to file the request because it differed from previous requests to determine tax-exempt status for projects such as the Facebook’s data centers that were on industrial land in the original Stanton Springs business park south of the Rivian site.
But Henry said the council was overstepping its authority by reviewing the merits of the entire Rivian deal rather than just checking whether the lease was tax-exempt, the Citizen newspaper reported.
Afterwards, JDA spokesman Ben Sheidler said any action taken was moot anyway and that another meeting was needed because Wednesday’s rally in Madison did not meet the requirements of the law. on public meetings of the state.
JDA attorney Andrea Gray sent a letter today, April 29, to Anton stating that another meeting was needed because Wednesday’s meeting was not properly advertised and an order from the day was not provided as required by Georgia’s open meeting law.
The letter also stated that John Artz had a conflict of interest when considering any Rivian-related applications due to his relationship with JoEllen Artz, Sheidler said.
John Artz’s abilities to fairly assess the JDA’s request on Wednesday were “clouded” due to the dispute, Sheidler said.
“It is clear that Mr. John Artz is opposed to this project based on his statements and behavior (Wednesday),” said a JDA statement issued today.
“Unfortunately, his behavior created an intimidating atmosphere for other board members by allowing unruly disruptions by many of his opposition group mates. Even though the meeting was not valid, his actions prevented the board of directors to examine the merits of the case before them.
“While we respect the right to oppose the project, the board should still be allowed to debate and act on the people’s business. Because of this bias and his wife’s leadership role on the of the opposition group, there is a clear conflict that obscures its ability to render an impartial judicial decision on this matter.
“We believe that this clear conflict should be considered by the Council before the postponed meeting.”
Sheidler also said that “the Tax Assessor Board’s only decision point is a determination, consistent with the many other projects, that the lease agreement between the JDA and Rivian is not subject to tax.”
“We expect this project to continue to progress as planned. We look forward to providing additional information and engaging with the Morgan County Board of Tax Assessors prior to the next meeting to ensure they have what they need to recognize this bond structure, which is consistent with developments precedents that they have approved.
He said the same board had approved the same financial structure for the Baymare project at Stanton Springs South, which was a $42 billion bond issue with 20-year tax-exempt status, in 2021.
“Morgan County has also approved this arrangement for many other projects outside of Stanton Springs,” Sheidler said. “Like other projects, Rivian will be required to make payments in lieu of taxes, or PILOT payments, which will be shared by the community.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: This version has been updated from an earlier version with new information.
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