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Bellevue TIF District Approved by County Over Some Businesses' Objections

Campbell County followed the City of Bellevue in approving plans for a tax increment finance (TIF) district - over the objections of business owners in the city's industrial zone.

Bellevue hopes that the TIF will drive infrastructure improvements and new developments to the commercial areas of the city beyond Fairfield Avenue. The bundaries touch the riverfront, travel Riviera Drive, and encompass the businesses along Donnermeyer Drive and the industrial park. Bellevue City Council approved the TIF plans by a vote of 4-2 earlier this month, and the Campbell County Fiscal Court approved it 3-0. 

In a TIF, tax money that would be collected from any increased value of property - and only on that increase - would be reinvested solely within the TIF boundaries. Newport, Dayton, and Highland Heights also use TIF districts in Campbell County currently. 

Business owners Jeff Gemmer, of Liberty Plastics, and Rob Pitts, of Konen's Pittstop, offered the same arguments to the Fiscal Court on Wednesday that they delivered multiple times to city council: they believe the ordinance unfairly characterizes their properties as "blighted", making them a possible target for eminent domain efforts from the government. 

Throughout the TIF explanation and consideration process at the city and county level, multiple people attempted to assuage those fears. Local TIF expert and attorney Jim Parsons said that the city's property power is not increased at all by the creation of a TIF. That point was emphasized on Wednesday by City Administrator Keith Spoelker, who spoke on Bellevue's behalf at the Fiscal Court. (In a TIF, each government entity must approve giving up its portion of incremental tax growth; the city voted in favor first, and now the county has joined in.)

Judge/Executive Steve Pendery argued that the TIF sounded like a solid idea, and Commissioner Tom Lampe agreed. "I understand the fear of eminent domain but I don't think it's a realistic view," Lampe told Gemmer and Pitts. "You should be fortunate that you're in it because the money is going to be put back into the surrounding area that you are in. They want to help you succeed. This should be a good, positive thing."

Pendery and Lampe were joined by Commissioner Brian Painter in voting to approve the county's participation in the Bellevue TIF. Commissioner Charlie Coleman was more sympathetic to the arguments presented by Gemmer and Pitts, and he abstained from voting. 

"I got a problem when the government says, I know what's best for you," Coleman said. "It's a double-edged sword. The government belongs to the people. If they don't want to be in the TIF district, and it sounds like they don't, would you take them out?"

Spoelker said that removing the industrial zone from the TIF boundaries would require a new ordinance since the one adopted by city council included the area. At the council level, council members Dave Slater and Rodney Poynter opposed the TIF while Steve Guidugli, Matt Olliges, Ryan Salzman, and Melissa Tatum voted in favor. 

Pending approval at the state level, the Bellevue TIF would be guided by a 5-member board, with three appointments made by the city and two from the county. Coleman argued that either Gemmer or Pitts should be on the board. "I can't promise that," Pendery said in response. "We can't always know what the community at large thinks about it just because we have representatives of one point of view. We really have to go with the decisions that your elected officials make." Pendery added that Pitts would be considered as a possible appointment to the board if he'd like to be.

Assistant city administrator Jody Robinson explained the need and the goals of the TIF in Bellevue. "Bellevue is less than one square mile and has almost 6,000 people in it. Where we have opportunities for development is minimal," she said. "We have a flood plain, we have brownfields, we have hillside, and we already have existing development that is protected because it is part of the historic preservation area. 

"I have been with the city for over ten years and for eight of them we have been discussing tools in the toolbox. ... One of the reasons we need (TIF) is because we are mature, we are built out, and we have few opportunities on our riverfront. In order to be a sustainable city we have to grow our income. We have rehabbed just about everything we can on Fairfield Avenue and our housing stock has improved, so where do we have the opportunity to make the biggest impact on our community?"

Robinson argued that problems with the infrastructure in the industrial zone would be improved by the proceeds from a TIF. "I'm hearing, our road is horrible. A great use to make the industrial area better would be to repair that road because it is certainly not meeting subdivision standards. We know that, but roads don't pay for themselves. They need to be resurfaced at a minimum, every ten years. 

She also countered arguments that the TIF process was not conducted transparently. 

"We followed a process that is recommended, we did not do this in secret."

Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher