IDA Gets Relief From RR Debt

The Dade County Industrial Authority (IDA) has money in the bank, more on the way, a trusted and proven director newly anointed full-time, and great expectations for the future.

What it does not have is sufficient board members to turn up at meetings to constitute a quorum.

The agenda for the scheduled July IDA meeting on Monday was fairly heavy, including approval of IDA’s 2017-2018 fiscal year budget. Attendance, on the other hand, was too light for the board to meet legally.

Director Peter Cervelli (left) took the cancellation in stride. “We’re going to spend money whether we have the budget or not,” he said. “That’s the way it goes.”

Cervelli was speaking after the nonmeeting as he and The Planet tried to discern whether this was the third or fourth IDA monthly meeting to be canceled in 2017 for lack of attendance. The answer ultimately decided was third, not as bad as fourth but still almost half of this year’s seven scheduled meetings.

The Planet labors under an onus of crushing civic responsibility to keep its watchful journalistic eye on the doings of this quasi-governmental body that is unelected by Dade voters yet empowered to grant millions of dollars in tax breaks as well as to spend millions of Dade public dollars. Members of IDA’s board of directors? Less so, presumably.

Cervelli seemed also unworried by the no-shows. “The [Dade County] commission has to deal with that,” he said.

Despite the lack of a quorum, Cervelli briefly outlined for such members as did attend the July 24 nonmeeting IDA’s achievements in the past couple of months, notably an unexpected but welcome turn in its finances. A meeting with representatives of Norfolk Southern Rail had turned up good news.

“We had the $271,000 bill for building that crossing over there that I didn’t pay,” Cervelli said after the nonmeeting. “I thought I was going to argue to maybe pay half of it. They said I didn’t owe any of it.”

The railroad should have been billing the Georgia Department of Transportation instead, Cervelli told the board.

Cervelli had already paid $83,000, he said; now it seemed $10- or $15,000 may be refunded. “That’s like $300,000 made in one meeting,” said Cervelli. “So that’s a big swing in our revenue.”

The proposed budget he had brought for approval showed $507,216 in available funds, expected inflow of $80,085 and expenses of $158,477 for the new fiscal year, for a negative cash flow of $78,391, leaving a positive bank balance of $348,739 for next June. “Given what’s happened with the railroad, we’re in pretty good shape,” said Cervelli.

PILOT (payments in lieu of taxes) from two industrial park tenants, JMS and Lake Region, were expected to begin this year, going up, Cervelli explained, in graduated increments annually thereafter; and his own salary would now be less of a burden to IDA as under the new arrangement it is to be shared by the Dade County and and Trenton City commissions.

IDA had hosted a Japanese firm in June, said Cervelli, a company that would have brought some 200 jobs to Dade. Note past conditional tense. “I’m pretty sure it went to Tennessee,” said Cervelli. “They only wanted 10 acres but that did not happen.”

Cervelli reported on Vanguard, the truck trailer manufacturer IDA took some trouble to bring to Dade for the sake of the jobs it would bring. Vanguard continues having trouble filling the jobs it has on offer and is reaching out to the Alabama as well as Georgia Department of Labor to help recruit, he said. “I think they even talked to the sheriff’s office about anybody getting out of jail looking for a job, they’d be willing to hire them,” he said.

Otherwise, Cervelli shared at the nonmeeting and later with The Planet the results of an interesting study done by a retail recruiting firm IDA had retained for $3500 with the help of a statewide subsidy from Georgia Power.

“The first thing they do is a data analysis of the demographics, the patterns of the people who shop here,” said Cervelli. The study shows where people who shop in Dade come from to do it, or at least where they were two hours before arriving here. “I guess people’s phones tell you a lot,” said Cervelli.

But he hadn’t succeeded in translating the blue dots on a map included in the results further than to be able to say that some shoppers came over the state line from Alabama.

The researchers had also found towns about the same size as Trenton which might serve as apt comparisons retail-wise. These included Carrollton, Ala.; Caryville, Tenn.; Clayton and Ludowici, Ga.; and New Ellenton, S.C.

Perhaps most interesting was the “retail gap” section of the data, which showed what Dade could use more of retail-wise. “There’s about another $2 million in clothing money they thought that could be spent here in Dade County,” said Cervelli.

Other dollars left on the table because there’s nowhere in Dade to spend them would go to movie theaters, museums, bars and nightclubs, exercise clubs and comic book stores.

The study broke down some merchandise item by item, such as liquid foundation makeup and condoms. Condoms? asked The Planet.

“We’re a little under,” said Cervelli. “Maybe they’re buying them elsewhere. that’s all I can say.”

Cervelli isn’t sure how the company obtained all its intel. “I have a lot of questions about the data,” he said. “But just looking at it makes me smile.”

The recruitment firm will now use the data to market Trenton and Dade at trade shows where developers and companies go to meet, said Cervelli.

Following the nonmeeting, Cervelli and such board members as attended went behind closed doors for a non-executive session with Dade County Executive Chairman Ted Rumley, from which the press was nevertheless barred.

IDA’s next meeting is scheduled for Aug. 28. The Planet, anyway, plans to attend.

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