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Watkinsville businesses eligible for tax credits

by Staff Reports

Shortly after being named Watkinsville’s first Downtown Development Director, Kate Patterson researched a program called RURAL Zone as a productive way to stimulate revitalization and create jobs.

Just over a year later, the city has received the RURAL Zone designation.

To share how this program can help local business owners, the Downtown Development Authority is hosting a public meeting Wednesday, Jan. 24 at 8:30 a.m. at Oconee State Bank’s headquarters, 41 N. Main Street. Coffee and biscuits will be served.

Watkinsville was named one of just four cities in the state for the 2024 RURAL Zone cohort. RURAL is not a reference to only agricultural practices but instead an acronym that stands for Revitalizing Underdeveloped Rural Areas Legislation. RURAL Zones aid in the revitalization of rural downtowns by offering tax incentives for current and future businesses that create at least two jobs.

At the meeting, the program coordinator from Georgia’s Department of Community Affairs will be on hand to explain the programs and answer questions.

There are three specific tax incentives available through the RURAL Zone program, including job tax

credits, investment tax credits and rehabilitation tax credits.

The job tax credit is offered to any new or existing business that adds at least two full-time equivalent

jobs per year for up to five years and is not to exceed $200,000 total or $40,000 per year. Eligible

businesses include professional services or retail, and the credits can be taken for five years, as long as the

jobs are maintained.

The investment credit offers 25 percent of the purchase price of a building within the RURAL Zone, not to exceed $125,000 total for five years. To claim this credit, the investment property must be within the

zone and create at least two full time equivalent jobs. This credit is prorated over five tax years.

The rehabilitation credit is equivalent to 30 percent of the qualified rehabilitation costs of a building, not

to exceed $150,000. This credit is prorated over three years, and the property under rehabilitation must

be within the RURAL Zone and create at least two full time equivalent jobs.

The RURAL Zone program is a five-year designation. Watkinsville’s designation runs from Jan. 1, 2024, through Dec. 31, 2028. As long any of the credits are taken beginning within this time frame, they may be claimed for the following three or five years—depending on the credit type—even though the city’s designation may expire during that time.

If the credits exceed one’s tax bill, the credit balance may be used for up to 10 years.

“This may be just what some investors and owners need to take the next big step, to grow their

business, to expand their footprint or to update their building,” said Patterson. “[We] want to protect and improve what we have, attract new retailers and restaurants, improve our walkability and protect our historical treasures.”

Patterson added, “If you own property and have been on the fence about updating it, expanding it, breathing new life into it, these tax credits may move the needle for you to go ahead and take the next step.”

Other nearby RURAL Zones include Clayton, Comer, Eatonton, Lavonia, Thompson, Forsyth,

Thomaston, Washington and Hartwell.

Patterson cites the city of Hartwell as having tremendous success with their designation, which ran from

2019 through 2023. Hartwell Economic and Community Development Director Jason Ford noted that downtown property values increased from $7.6 million in 2018 to over $34 million at the end of 2022.

Taylor Smith, who leads the RURAL Zone efforts in Thomaston, reports that in their first year of

designation (2022), downtown Thomaston had 14 new businesses open, 28 new jobs created and a total of $9.79 million in public and private investment. In 2023, through November, downtown Thomaston has seen 18 new businesses open, 49 new jobs created and $5.97 million invested in public and private dollars.

“Many of our decisions and investments in Watkinsville revolve around protecting and strengthening

our downtown, and this is an unmatched way that existing property owners and new business owners

can create jobs, save taxes and improve properties,” said Watkinsville Mayor Brian Brodrick. “I would

encourage all downtown property owners to attend the Jan. 24 event so they can learn about how

to take advantage of the program.”

Those who have questions can contact Downtown Development Director Kate Patterson at

kpatterson@cityofwatkinsville.com.

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