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Albemarle reviewing how to invest fees from economic development bonds

For the first time anyone can remember, the Albemarle Board of Supervisors has met jointly with its Economic Development Authority to set priorities for next year.

EDA bond issuances will generate new fees and officials are being encouraged to channel those funds toward further support of economic development activities.

The opportunity comes through Sentara Healthcare’s June 2011 merger with Martha Jefferson Hospital. When Sentara refinanced some of its bonds for projects around the state earlier this year, Albemarle benefitted from Norfolk having a program to collect fees via its Economic Development Authority.

That practice had not been in place in Albemarle, but the fee sharing arrangement with Norfolk put a local policy change in motion.

“Over three-quarters of the counties in the state do this already,” said EDA chairman John Lowry. “In the past we haven’t charged [a fee], where a very small percent will come to the county for the use of our name.

“Over the years, $500 million dollars of bonds have been issued, and they all got good interest rates, and the county blessed it and got nothing in return.”

In July 2012, Albemarle’s EDA changed its procedures to collect an administrative fee of $1,000 per $1 million of bonds issued. Albemarle expects to receive $45,000 in 2013 for the Sentara Healthcare bond issue and additional payments annually after that.

“We would expect this to be a growing source of revenue,” said Albemarle Supervisor Dennis S. Rooker. “If we did three deals next year, the fees will start growing. … In four to five years, you might have $200,000 a year coming into this fund.”

Albemarle County staff used Thursday’s meeting to solicit feedback on ways the initial funds could be utilized in the fiscal year 2014 budget.

County spokeswoman Lee Catlin’s position has expanded in recent years to include responsibility for business partnerships.

She presented officials with a list more than $217,000 in existing programs, staff and memberships already in the county budget intended to support Albemarle’s Economic Vitality Action Plan. There is also a separate $250,000 “economic opportunity fund” which Catlin said could be used more effectively.

“We think there are some ways that money can be used a little more dynamically to support our economic development priorities,” Catlin said. “That’s a discussion we’ll have in the spring.”

Rooker suggested existing memberships in the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Thomas Jefferson Partnership for Economic Development could be paid with the collected EDA fees instead of from the general fund.

“If we just paid our existing dues, that’s not a lot of money, and it leaves some resources for other things,” Rooker said.

Albemarle re-joined the Chamber of Commerce and joined TJPED in 2006, two memberships Rooker opposed.

“TJPED has refocused it efforts,” Rooker said when asked if he was now a supporter. “A primary focus has been placed on supporting existing firms and agricultural businesses.”

“So yes, I have gotten more comfortable [with TJPED],” Rooker said. “They understand their primary job now is not to go out and get a large manufacturing company to locate here.”

Finding locations for new business was on the mind of EDA board member Blake Hurt. He suggested allocating some funds to enhance the county’s online real estate database.

“If the information the county already has was put online in a more user-friendly way, you could more quickly find, for example, how many 10,000 square foot buildings exist on five acres of property that are zoned industrial,” Hurt said. “You cannot ask that question of the GIS system the county currently has.”

Hurt said the only way to do that today was to call a real estate agent and “hope they know.” Hurt’s wife serves on the board of directors of Charlottesville Tomorrow.

Catlin said the feedback received from the Albemarle Supervisors and the Economic Development Authority would be worked into the plans for the next budget.