By REID TUCKER
Despite the better part of half a year’s anticipation and indications to the contrary, Dollar General will not open a retail location in Paxton.
Walton County Economic Development Alliance (WCEDA) Managing Director Scarlett Phaneuf, who spearheaded the effort to recruit Dollar General, said in her report to the Town Council on Oct. 16 that the discount retailer’s upper management decided against going forward with plans to open a store location in Paxton. She said that call was ultimately made because a Dollar General market analysis showed that Paxton does not have the population and demographic figures to support a store location, especially with a store already right across the state line in neighboring Florala, Ala. Phaneuf said that last consideration was likely what staved off the pending deal between the city, Teramore Development, LLC. and Dollar General.
“I think the primary concern was that [Dollar General] worried about taking business from their store in Florala,” Phaneuf said. “There are only so many shoppers to go around.”
Phaneuf and City Attorney Lori Bytell submitted the prospective agreement between the three parties a few months back and had heard no word from Dollar General, which still had to approve the site development plan supplied by Teramore, until the week before the Council’s October meeting. Included in the agreement, which was finalized in May, were several incentives, not least of which was an impact fee waiver and a steeply discounted sale of the acreage needed to build the proposed store location. Though Dollar General might be out of the question, Bytell told the Council that strong incentives were still the best way to attract new businesses to locate in Paxton, and one such incentive is not yet on the books, but it will be on the Nov. 6 ballot.
The Walton County Board of County Commissioner approved the inclusion of a referendum that, if supported by the voters, would give the board the power to abate ad valorem taxes for new and expanding businesses. According to a release from the WCEDA, the BCC had this authority for 20 years until the original resolution expired in 2010, though no more than three businesses received such an exemption during that time. The ad valorem waiver is aimed at helping businesses creating at least 10 new full-time jobs with salaries above the local average or in a targeted industry such as manufacturing.
Bytell also suggested that the city consider reopening the Walton County Visitors Center as a way of letting passers-by become more familiar with Paxton and Walton County in general.
The Council members commended Phaneuf, Bytell and city staff for their hard work in recruiting Dollar General, even if the deal fell through. Phaneuf said she will continue to work with the city to find another business to take its place, with contact already being established with Fred’s Superstore, a similar discount retailer. What is most valuable, Phaneuf said, is that the city got experience dealing with a big corporation, which should help Paxton when it comes time to make a deal.
“The good thing is we’ve now been through this process with a corporate store and developer,” Phaneuf said. “Now we have all the information on hand to be able to move on to the next opportunity and to find something that will work and be a good fit for this community.”
Having concluded that bit of old business, the Council voted 4-0 (Councilman Charles Cook was not present at the meeting) to approve the second reading and adoption of the city’s well-head protection ordinance. Mayor Hayward Thomas also recommended that the Council members consider an updated list of policies and procedures, as the existing list had not been changed in the last decade. The Council requested that the city attorney review the new policies and procedures before city staff presented them to the board at its next meeting.