Jackson County leaders say Google’s presence will be have an impact on schools, funding

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JACKSON COUNTY, Ala. (WHNT) — Officials say Google’s plan to build a $600 million data center in the Stevenson and Bridgeport area is about more than a boost to the economy. Google’s presence is expected to help the county’s schools as well; schools which funding for has been decreasing in the county.

Google plans to build the center on part of the Widows Creek Coal plant site, which is set to shut down this year in response to new federal regulations.

Jackson County officials say those plans mean dollar signs for every school in Jackson County. “Any economic development that happens in Jackson County or Alabama really with how our abatement laws are, education taxes don’t get abated,” Commission Chair Matthew Hodges says.

Hodges says where the county won’t receive property taxes for this project as a typical incentive, the school systems will continue to receive their portion. With Google’s $600 million investment, officials say that’s substantial for the schools. “Plus the property taxes year to year, plus all the other benefits that come from increased growth and revenue through sales tax, the school systems, both the county and the city school systems will be able to benefit from those dollars,” Hodges says.

Officials say some of those revenues will be based off of property tax from the soon to be added assets. County leaders say besides the additional funding, Google’s involvement as a community partner in education is another big benefit for the schools. Jackson County School officials say Google’s involvement in the county is opening new doors and providing opportunities for the students.

County leaders are determining how that center will impact one source of revenue that’s been slowly decreasing over the years.

The county gets revenues from the Widows Creek coal plant, called TVA in lieu of taxes — taxes paid by TVA instead of property taxes. Those go to entities like the schools, the sheriff’s office, and the county’s municipalities. County leaders expected those funds to decrease with the coal plant’s closure, but now they say it could be a different story. “The way in lieu of taxes are determined ultimately is through power sales and through assets,” Hodges says, “So the coal plant closing is the asset side of that, that’s where we’ve been losing some of these revenues, but Google working with TVA and being such a large energy consumer, that’s the power sales side of it. So in that aspect of it, we should see the in lieu of taxes increase from the power sales.”

Hodges says they believe they will see two more years of decreases, but believe that will change after that — but not to the full amount they’ve received in the past.

Officials say either way it’s a step in the right direction. “Really, the announcement from Google is a great thing for in lieu of taxes,” Hodges says.

They’re still working on the numbers to understand exactly how that funding will be affected.

County leaders say they appreciate TVA investing in the county to keep those in lieu of tax funds in play.