A step toward that was taken Monday by Marshall County commissioners who voted to authorize economic Recovery Zones under provisions of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
The Obama Administration's program provides a way for local governments to borrow money at a low interest rate with repayments to be made by businesses that qualify for the incentive of low cost money that is without risk to the local governments.
"We would not be liable," Commissioner Richard Medley said as a question about the government bond sale, and County Mayor Joe Boyd Liggett replied, "That's the way I understand it."
After the county meeting, Cornersville Mayor Amos Davis said, "There's a discussion" about attracting a grocery to his town.
"But there is nothing nailed down," Davis said, acknowledging the commissioners' vote could lead to low-cost financing for the development of a grocery. "It's in the discussion mode."
No commitments have been made, the mayor said.
However, he seemed interested in learning more about the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that has been explained by Lewisburg-based attorney Bob Binkley to a couple of county panels: the Economic and Community Development - Tourism Committee led by county Budget Committee Chairman Mickey King; and the Marshall County Board of Public Utilities.
King's also a member of the MCBPU with Commissioner Mary Ann Neill, another member of the ECD-Tourism Committee. Those commissioners, County Mayor Joe Boyd Liggett and others have been to a recent seminar on how the Recovery Act can be used for public utilities like the BPU and businesses such as groceries and restaurants.
"There's a possibility," the Cornersville mayor said of using the bond program to help attract a grocery to town. "I'm not sure. We've got to find out more about the details."
Cornersville Town Administrator Taylor Brandon also wanted more information.
"Right now we're not actually sure what all this will entail," Brandon said. "The commission has taken the first steps toward creating a recovery zone for these projects, but we don't know what the stipulations are yet."
Binkley has explained that local leaders could find investors willing to buy the income tax-free government bonds. Debt repayment would be from profits of the grocery. If it failed, then the investors would lose the money they spent on the bonds. If it flourishes, investors are repaid at interest rate set by the market, but they would not be required to pay state or federal taxes on the interest income earned by loaning money through the bonds.
Brandon said town leaders have spoken with two groups of businessmen.
"Both groups we've talked to have franchises for groceries, so franchising won't be a problem," the town administrator said. "But the remaining question is: "Can we get this structured in a way we can all live with because the requirements might be stringent under the Recovery and Reinvestment Act?"
While approving a resolution that could lead to such arrangements, county commissioners on Monday amended a resolution to have Mike Wiles, the executive director of the Joint Economic and Community Development Board, be the agent for the county instead of County Mayor Joe Boyd Liggett.
Liggett endorsed the idea of Wiles dealing with this task, and said "The county has the first shot" at selling the bonds for qualified projects.
Neill said, "If we don't use it, we can pass it along to the other communities..."
Commission Chairman Billy Spivey endorsed Wiles as the administrator of this program for the local governments and noted that one of two kinds of bonds "are available to private entities."
Commissioner Jimmy Stitt praised Wiles' work, but noted he might come under pressure from the different interests represented by the JECDB.
"My main objective," Wiles replied, "is to not lose this money. I want to use it and make sure the facts are known by everyone."
King explained why.
"These are very time-sensitive," he said. "We must have them by May 1 and have them closed out by December 2010."
While commissioners unanimously voted to participate in the program, Stitt and one other commissioner voted against the amendment offered by King for Wiles.