WOODBINE — Two years ago, the Camden County Commission voted 3-2 to continue a 500 percent increase in funding for the Camden County Joint Development Authority that was approved in 2014.

Supporters of the increase said the budget of $241,000 barely covered salaries and office expenses, leaving little for marketing, land acquisition and improvements to existing properties that could be used for industrial purposes.

Now, commissioners are considering whether to continue the funding increase for the upcoming fiscal year.

Commissioners said they expected to see results two years ago when the JDA budget was increased to $1.3 million. County taxes were raised 1 mill to pay for the increase.

Charlie Smith, the authority’s chairman, said the issue was discussed at a recent budget workshop where he told commissioners they had to remain patient.

“A lot of what you do is in the preparation,” he said. “You’ve got to keep at it. You never know for sure.”

Smith said the authority has had some success, as well as some “near misses” to lure new industry to Camden County.

“We almost had them,” he said of prospective businesses expressing interest in moving to the county.

James Coughlin, the authority’s director, said as recently as last week, the county was a candidate to lure a new employer that would have created 300 new jobs paying on average about $40,000 a year.

“We just lost out on one last Friday because we couldn’t provide the same level of incentives as another county in Georgia,” he said. “It didn’t make sense, so we had to let it go. We haven’t found the right project for the county.”

Smith said the authority played a role in attracting a Tractor Supply store, currently under construction, to Kingsland. The new business will create 50 new jobs when it opens later this year.

“We spent many, many hours preparing a development agreement with the city of Kingsland,” he said. “I’d call that a success.”

The Georgia Department of Labor said 1,000 new jobs were created in Camden County last year, Smith said.

The authority is making improvements at the industrial park near the Interstate 95 interchange at Exit 7 including repairs to the fence and other improvements to make the site shovel ready.

The authority has also set aside $750,000 for a planned spaceport if the project is approved by the Federal Aviation Administration.

The authority also has $600,000 in incentive funds to help lure new employers to the county.

“I’d like to go a lot bigger than that,” he said. “You have to pay to get the jobs here.”

Coughlin said the authority is trying to create a marine industrial complex at the old Durango-Georgia Paper Co. site in St. Marys that was recently rezoned to allow for the creation of a barge port.

“We are all working toward the same goal which is economic development and wealth creation,” he said.

Rather than year-to-year approval for funding, Smith wants commissioners to guarantee funding at the current level for the next 10 years. It would enable the authority to take out loans for projects such as a 50,000 square-foot spec building that would cost an estimated $2 million to build.

“We need a continuous stream of funding,” he said.

Last year, two commissioners who voted against the increase, suggested a half mill increase would be justified instead of the full amount requested. Smith said the authority’s operating expenses are about $400,000, which would leave little for marketing, land acquisition and an incentive fund needed to lure new businesses to the county.

“You wouldn’t have any money to build anything,” he said.

A commitment to increase funding for the next decade will also make Camden County competitive for new jobs.

“Many of of our surrounding counties have long term funding,” he said. “We don’t have that capability. We’re doing all we can.”

Smith believes it’s a matter of time before a new employer comes to Camden County as a result of the funding increase.

“Sooner or later, it will come,” he said. “We’re really at a critical point.”

While some people have complained about the lack of results, Smith said it would be a mistake to eliminate the funding increase approved two years ago.

“If you went back to $240,000, you may as well shut it down,” he said. “You can’t go back to that level.”

Reporter Gordon Jackson writes about Camden County and other local topics. Contact him at gjackson@thebrunswicknews.com, on Facebook or at 464-7655.

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