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Confusion & Concern Expressed Over Proposed Bellevue TIF District

A proposed tax increment finance district in the City of Bellevue drew a couple dozen people to a public hearing late last week, with some local business and home owners concerns that the proposal would cost them their properties.

The city hosted the public hearing at the Callahan Center on Thursday and attorney James Parsons, a local expert on TIF districts, explained how the system works and attempted to quell some of the fears and to correct some misinformation.

"A TIF is simply a mechanism to capture the growth and revenues in a district in a utilize those revenues for improvements in the district," Parsons said. Typically, in a TIF, future growth in property taxes is taken and reinvested in the designated area exclusively. In Bellevue, the boundaries for the proposed TIF are roughly along the riverfront, south to Donnermeyer Drive, and east to the industrial area. Fairfield Avenue, the city's traditional commercial area, is not included. "This has nothing to do with land-use, restrictions on propert, and there is no change in taxes."

Some property and business owners believed that the proposal would raise their taxes or cost them their property by way of eminent domain. Jeff Gemmer, of Liberty Plastics, took exception to the city's use of imagery in creating the proposal that depicted the industrial park as being full of trash with run-down buildings, and as an area that would benefit from TIF.

"The only lot I know that has anything out is the city's property, so where did we get that our buildings are 50 percent dilapidated in the report? You didn't inspect my building," Gemmer said. "Every building up there is occupied."

Part of Covert Run would also be included in the proposed TIF boundaries. The street was recently hammered by flooding in recent rains. "The people on Covert Run have endured a bunch of flooding for many years and I think it's time we have another plan," said resident Gina Pollock.

Councilman Steve Guidugli said that the city should consider buying the properties in the affected area of Covert Run because of the consistent flooding. City Administrator Keith Spoelker called it a long-range plan in the early stages of discussion. "I don't know if it's in the interest of the city just yet," Spoelker said. That idea was not related to the TIF discussion, though some residents were concerned that their homes could be taken in eminent domain processes. 

Councilman Rodney Poynter argued that the city needs to be "more open" about the TIF discussions. He and councilman David Slater sat in the audience during Thursday's public hearing while Mayor Ed Riehl and councilmen Steve Guidugli and Ryan Salman joined Spoelker at the dais. Salzman took an opportunity to explain how the TIF could benefit existing businesses when Rob Pitts of Konen's Pittstop suggested that it was not necessary. Salzman said that growth on the riverfront would increase revenues in the TIF which could then be used to improve a different area within the proposed TIF's boundaries, such as around Pitts's business.

"There was no thought from the beginning to establish a TIF to take people's property," Guidugli said. "The discussion got started as, how can we raise more revenue without getting 4 percent (in property tax increases) every year from the taxpayers. This TIF is a plan to get that started so we create some opportunities."

Campbell County would also likely participate in the TIF district, should it come to pass. Seth Cutter, the county's economic development director, spoke at Thursday's meeting. "TIF districts are a wonderful tool at our disposal that can help promote investment, particularly in those areas outlined in the map that may not be redeveloping actively but may be down the road," he said. Whereas county property taxes go into the general fund and are used for all sorts of expenses, property tax growth in the TIF district is reinvested within that district, he said. "Instead of going in the general pot in the county, those monies would come back to this district."

The county would likely contribute 60 percent of its new tax growth in the district while the city would be at 80 percent.

Parsons attempted to reiterate that point. "It's not just a commitment from the county to spend that revenue, it's a commitment from council," he said. "What they are saying is, there is probably going to be development at some point in the future. 80 percent of the new taxes generated have to be spent in that area and can't be spent anywhere else."
 
Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher
Photo: James Parsons talks at Bellevue TIF meeting (RCN)