DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. — Taxpayers in DeKalb County are paying for a big company’s multi-million-dollar private jet.
Our partners at Channel 2 Action News uncovered that the Decide DeKalb Development Authority is the owner of a $9.5 million corporate jet. However, the plane is actually used by a lighting company called Acuity Brands. It’s part of a multi-million-dollar package that was used to convince Acuity to expand a DeKalb facility.
Channel 2′s Investigation found that the DeKalb County Development Authority does not regularly and consistently track whether the companies that receive the tax breaks follow through on their part of the deal.
Georgia State Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver, who represents DeKalb County in the state legislature, asked, “When do we get our money back if they don’t carry out their obligations of the deal?”
In the case of the private jet, the tail number is registered with the FAA to DeKalb County Development Authority and state records list it as an asset of the development authority.
The development authority bought the plane from Acuity in 2014 and leases it back to them as part of a deal that was supposed to create 250 jobs.
“It’s symptomatic. The developer thinks that he can have an entitlement or certainly can receive a free plane that somebody else is going to buy,” Oliver told Channel 2 Consumer Investigator Justin Gray.
There are now more than 1,300 development authorities in Georgia. Each has an unelected board, but the power to offer millions of dollars in tax breaks to companies.
“There’s very little oversight and very little transparency,” Oliver added. “When is a deal good for the taxpayer?”
The Decide DeKalb Development Authority declined Channel 2′s request for an interview and would only comment on the plane deal:
“There is no one on Decide DeKalb’s staff or board today that was around during the time of this project that can speak about the details or climate in which decisions were made.”
But DeKalb County isn’t the only development authority to get into the private jet business.
Cobb County has a similar plane deal with Georgia entertainment mogul Tyler Perry.
In 2017, the Development Authority of Cobb County granted a $1.8 million tax break and refinanced Perry’s $35 million jet to lure the plane to Cobb County’s McCollum field.
“We saw that as an opportunity to attract other private jets, particularly for those in the movies and entertainment,” said Cobb Development Authority Executive Director Nelson Geter.
Geter says besides luring other planes, the jet has provided ten high-paying jobs and he considers it a win for the county.
“We know Tyler Perry lives here. We know he flies here to Georgia,” Channel 2′s Justin Gray said during an interview with Geter, adding, “Why does he need incentives to house his plane here?”
Geter replied, “Any company that’s having to compete in this global market needs to have a competitive advantage.”
But the question is, how much should taxpayers subsidize that advantage?
In 2022, the state legislature created a bipartisan study committee to look into that and other questions about how the state’s development authorities operate.
But after a spring 2023 hearing, recommendations to tighten oversight on development authorities didn’t get passed out of the gold dome.
Geter says that competing states like North Carolina, Florida and Texas are offering similar deals. And if Georgia has to stay competitive.
“I think probably 75 to 80% of them would have gone elsewhere. It’s because they could get our deal or a better deal somewhere else,” Geter said.
We wanted to know what the tangible results of Acuity Brands and that jet deal were, nearly 10 years later.
In 2014, they pledged to create 250 jobs and invest more than $34 million in DeKalb County.
We asked the Decide DeKalb Development Authority if that has happened, but they told us they don’t track that data.
Decide DeKalb says that “no annual reporting is required for projects that do not contain multi-family housing.”
That is differs from other development authorities.
The Development Authority of Cobb County tells us it requires companies to file annual reports showing that they are meeting the job growth and investment targets, or companies could have their bond agreements pulled.
Fulton County Development Authority also tracks progress. Fulton tells us they require quarterly reports of companies that have tax incentives and bond deals.
After we asked questions, Decide DeKalb reached out to Acuity, who sent them a letter saying they have fulfilled the terms of the bond agreement.
Acuity did provide Channel 2 Action News with the following statement:
“The primary purpose of the program with Decide Dekalb was to encourage investment in Dekalb county and create jobs. We are proud to have remained as an employer in DeKalb County for decades, and we invested and grew our facilities there and created hundreds of new jobs in DeKalb since the tax incentive program began. Taxpayers have not paid for the purchase or operation of the company airplane.”
A company representative also told Decide DeKalb they have created more than 300 jobs.
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