The anti-Rivian movement out of Rutledge is hosting a rally this Sunday, as the group eagerly awaits a court ruling that will decide whether or not Rivian’s lucrative tax-exempt status should be overturned.
Rivian, an electric vehicle company planning to build a $5 billion megafactory in Morgan and Walton counties, will garner more than $700 million in tax breaks over the course of 25 years for the electric automaker, should the deal remain intact.
The rally will feature the anti-Rivian group’s three lawyers: John A. Christy, Scott Peters, and Stephen Mulherin, as well as two local candidates running for the same county commissioner seat: Republican Blake McCormack and Democrat Bob Baldwin.
The rally will be held at 3070 Old Mill Road in Rutledge on Sunday, Sept 11, at 2 p.m.
“We haven’t gotten together since April and people have been asking for something like this,” said JoEllen Artz, one of the anti-Rivian leaders organizing the event.
“We will meet inside a large party barn, rain or shine. There will be water and snacks and the pep rally is free of charge,” said Artz.
According to Artz, the rally aims to inform the local citizenry of the No2Rivian group’s legal efforts to derail the Rivian deal.
“We can’t afford a $20,000 per month public relations firm like the Joint Development Authority can with our taxpayer money, so we are gathering folks to hear what our attorneys have to say about the legal actions that have been taken,” said Artz. “Guests can ask questions of the attorneys.”
The group’s attorneys filed a lawsuit in late June against the Morgan County Board of Tax Assessors, the Joint Development Authority (JDA), the Walton County Board of Tax Assessors, and Rivian Horizon, LLC.
The complaint alleges that the Rivian rental agreement, which allows the California-based automaker to build a $5 billion electric vehicle manufacturing plant atop a nearly 2,000-acre site spanning across Morgan and Walton counties, should not be exempt from paying traditional property taxes.
The 17-page complaint summary claims the usufruct model approved by the Morgan and Walton tax boards to sidestep property taxes for Rivian is illegitimate and violates Georgia’s state constitution. A usufruct is the right to use and benefit from a property, while the ownership of the property belongs to another party, and therefore, the tenant utilizing the property is not subject to conventional property taxes.
The lawsuit also alleges that the Morgan County Board of Tax Assessors approved the tax-incentive deal for Rivian despite a host of procedural errors, including denying public comment to be heard before the 4-to-1 vote to finalize Rivian’s tax exempt status.
“The complaint speaks for itself but we look forward to having the matter heard before the Superior Court and are confident in our analysis of the law and conclusion that the Rental Agreement is not a non-taxable usufruct,” said Christy.
The JDA believes the lawsuit will fail in the courts.
The JDA issued a statement dismissing the legal complaint as a frivolous attempt to stall the Rivian development.
“This legal challenge is entirely without merit,” said a statement from the JDA. “Once again, this activist group that does not represent the opinion and thinking of the majority of our community is attempting to sabotage a generational economic development opportunity. This legal challenge will cost the taxpayers of Jasper, Morgan, Newton and Walton counties by engaging in a frivolous legal action that won’t have any impact on the project’s success. The JDA looks forward to the project’s groundbreaking later this summer.”
The state of Georgia now owns more than 40 parcels across Morgan and Walton counties, and plans to lease the megasite to the JDA, the four-county board overseeing the development of Stanton Springs and Stanton Springs North, where Rivian will become the JDA’s tenant exempt from property taxes for 25 years.
In lieu of property taxes, Rivian will pay an estimated minimum of $300 million over the 25-year tax abatement period beginning in 2023. The first six years, Rivian will pay $1.5 million annually, with payments increasing from the seventh year on. The PILOTs (payments in lieu of taxes) will be dispersed between the four investing counties (Morgan, Walton, Newton and Jasper) and the City of Social Circle. Morgan County owns a 14.25 percent share in all future PILOT payments. The JDA has agreed to issue up to $15 billion in industrial development revenue bonds for the Rivian development.
Morgan County Superior Court Judge Brenda Trammell is expected to render a ruling on the lawsuit by mid-September.
The Morgan County plaintiffs named in the case are Richard M. Haynes, Jeffrey V. McKenzie, Virginia McFaddin, Jennifer V. DeRoche, Valle S. Ashley, JoEllen Artz, and Neal S. Fitzgerald.
The grassroots movement against Rivian, which was born out of Rutledge since the project was announced in December by Governor Brian Kemp, is vehemently opposed to the Rivian plant, which calls for up to 16 million square feet of building space to be constructed primarily atop of historic farmland between Rutledge and Social Circle. Local opponents to the Rivian development worry about the plant’s impact on water supply, water quality, air pollution, wildlife displacement, solid waste disposal, traffic congestion, and community safety.
Opponents from Rutledge, a city whose tagline is “Small, but Special,” also fear a development of unprecedented size in the region will trigger a domino-effect of development, bringing in more housing subdivisions and apartment complexes, commercial ancillary industries, restaurants and strip malls, as well as overloading local schools as more families move into the area.