New Fast Food in Trenton? IDA's Not Saying

Trenton may, at some point in the unspecified future, conceivably be getting some unnamed new corporate restaurant. That was the biggest factoid—though “factoid” is perhaps an exaggeration here—aired at last week’s meeting of the Dade Industrial Development Authority board of directors.

“We do have a restaurant chain that’s interested in coming to Trenton,” said outgoing IDA director Peter Cervelli at the Monday meeting. “I can tell you some more about that in executive session.”

“Executive” sessions are closed ones, to which the public and press are not admitted. Bodies that deal in taxpayer funds are in theory required to meet openly but they are allowed to close the doors when they discuss personnel, litigation and the purchase, sale or lease of real estate. For IDA, this covers a lot of ground, including, apparently, whiffs of interest from corporate chain restaurants.

The Planet will duly pass on details of any new chow in the hometown if and when IDA is prepared to part with the information. Meanwhile, more mystery, with which IDA is as always eat up: The board assigns code names to corporations interested in building in or relocating to Dade, because these prospects remain unidentified even to IDA unless or until they accept the woo pitched to them by a county desperate for jobs: tax breaks, free land and other perks IDA offers to lure them away from competing counties. Meanwhile they are given code names.

At the May 21 meeting, Cervelli mentioned two of these: “Project Gingerbread”—“We’re waiting to hear, as always”—and "Project Shamrock": “We’re probably better situated than the Walker County Industrial Park.” For the latter, Cervelli added that despite the Irish moniker he did know it was a Japanese company. But if he knew any more than that he wasn’t saying; so again, not much to report on that front.

Cervelli told IDA members two lots on the gravel road at the industrial Park needed $30,000 of clearing work done to make them attractive to potential tenants. “They do not show well,” he said. He said trees needed to be removed but there were not enough of them to attract a logger. “We would love to have the county do it,” he said, but added the county had its hands full until winter.

On the subject of expenditures, board members briefly discussed money--$1 million that keeps popping up in the IDA books but that the bookkeeper is “almost positive” isn’t there. The speculation was that it was the $1 million grant given by Georgia to Vanguard Trailer as the state’s cash incentive to bring the manufacturer here, that had been run through the IDA budget and somehow lingered on the books after it was paid out. Auditors will be consulted, said Cervelli.

“So you guys are seeing a deficit budget for next year?” asked IDA Chairman Nathan Wooten.

“That’s reality,” said Cervelli.

Also, asked Chairman Wooten: “Is the payroll just going through the county payroll?”

“It is now,” said Cervelli.

Thus Cervelli’s newly anointed successor, William Back, will be treated as a full-fledged county employee, though his position is technically funded by the county, city of Trenton and IDA, each chipping in a third.

Back, a lawyer listed as the only attorney associated with a law firm called Manley Back & Duncan, of a post office box address in Wildwood, attended the meeting but spoke mostly about signage. In fact, his prior involvement with economic development in the county was as spokesman for the “Scenic Dade Development Company,” which surfaced for the first and last time at a November 2017 Trenton City Commission meeting to talk about its efforts to produce attractive signs for city and area points of interest.

At the May 21 IDA meeting, Back continued along this motif: “We’ve got probably 20 different places to point people to,” announced the new IDA director.

Back also mentioned that going forward: “We’d like to think about in the future additional land that’s managed by the IDA.”

Besides incentivizing companies to move to Dade with land as cheap as free, depending on number of jobs promised, IDA also acts as landlord to some companies, leasing them their own premises in order to obviate the complications of property taxes.

Cervelli is due to retire at the end of June. He said he’d been working with Back to get him comfortable with the job--which includes signing off on one company's purchase orders, necessitated by IDA's relationship with the company as signatory of a bond issued on its behalf--and would continue to do so for the next little while but: “At some point you’ve just got to say, it’s yours.”

IDA meets at 3 p.m. on the fourth Monday of the month in the Dade County Administrative Building.

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