Why The MLK Boulevard TIF Is A Bad Idea - And Response (2)

Friday, February 9, 2018

POSITION

1. Extending M.L. King Blvd. one block is a good idea.
2. Using TIF funds to pay for this street is a bad idea.
3. Using TIF funds to support nearby private development is an even worse idea. 

FORTUNATELY, THERE IS AN IDEAL FUNDING SOURCE FOR THIS PROJECT. 

4. The City Council passed a resolution in 2002 adopting the 21st Century Waterfront Plan. The plan lists the MLK Extension as a project on page 29. 
5. Later in 2002, Council adopted an ordinance establishing the 21st Century Waterfront Capital Projects Fund for the specific purposes of funding projects in the Plan. The ordinance mentions that proceeds from bonds financed by the City's Hotel/Motel Tax can be used for construction of such projects.
6. Hotel/motel taxes are the ideal way to fund the M.L. King Extension project. It is specifically listed in the 21st Century Waterfront Plan (City). It relates to tourism downtown (County). It would also make the project considerably less expensive.
7. The City and County each collect about $8 million annually from hotel/motel taxes. 

HERE IS A SUMMARY OF WHY THIS IS NOT A GOOD TIF. 

8. The city’s adopted TIF policies do not contemplate this kind of project. 
9. The project is not in a blighted area. It does not provide a lot of well-paying jobs. 
10. This project may not be eligible for tax increment financing under state law. 
11. Using TIF revenues for privately owned land and improvements requires a determination that the use of TIF revenues is in the “best interest of the state.”
12. “Best interest of the state...means that the project would not have occurred but for the payment, expenditure or financing.”
13. Construction is underway on the apartments and medical office building. The TIF has not yet been approved.
14. Most of the private property within the TIF boundary is owned by Newton Chevrolet and apparently is under contract. 
15. The public does not know the names of persons who have contracted with “Newton” or others, even though public funds may be used for acquisition and construction. 
16. The developer’s Economic Impact Plan says that the maximum amount of TIF financial assistance would be 4.5 million plus carried interest, reserve accounts, fees and expenses, and the projected total cost of the TIF in Exhibit D ($4 million-$4.5 million).
17. The three line items in Exhibit D that relate directly to the MLK street extension project total only $2.9 million. 
18. The projected cost of “road land acquisition and loss of units to development” is $2 million. The public does not know the justification for the amount we would be paying.
19. The TIF application asks an applicant for a detailed cost breakdown of the public improvements, including quantity and estimated cost of street, sidewalks, lighting, traffic signals, etc. This applicant did not fill out the cost breakdown.
20. A TIF would mean that the private development would pay much less in property taxes to the general fund (fire, police, etc.) for about 18 years.
21. The Economic Impact Plan (EIP) for the TIF project mentions 36 units of housing for “individuals of low and moderate incomes as determined by the IDB.” 
22. The EIP does not define low and moderate income. There has been no discussion at IDB meetings about income eligibility or rent or whether state law allows only portion of the units to be set aside. What factors will IDB consider in making a determination?
23. City Administration is asking the IDB to pass a resolution on February 12 to submit the EIP to the City Council and County Commission for approval. 

WHY SHOULD THE PUBLIC CARE HOW THIS PROJECT IS PAID FOR? 

24. You should care because it involves the use of your tax dollars.
25. It is the responsibility of your government to be good stewards of your tax dollars.
26. Situations arise when you may support the use of your tax dollars to promote private development because of perceived public benefit that might not happen otherwise.
27. The State Legislature has enacted law and outlined what projects qualify for tax increment financing. ATM does not believe this is a qualified project under the law.
28. Using TIF unnecessarily to benefit private development is an abuse of this good economic development tool.
29. Using TIF in this case would set a bad precedent. It would make it more difficult to say no to other private developers.
30. Hamilton County led the entire state of Tennessee in 2016 in both the total dollar amount of property taxes abated ($24 million) and the abated property percentage of commercial and industrial assessment (11.6%). A TIF, unlike a PILOT, is not an abatement. However, it diverts property taxes from the city and county general funds for TIF project costs, resulting in less tax revenue for important services and programs. 

Background

Evergreen Real Estate of Nashville filed an application with the city of Chattanooga for tax increment financing (TIF). If approved, future property tax revenues would be used for a one-block extension of M.L. King Blvd. to the trailhead on the Tennessee Riverwalk and for intersection improvements at MLK/Riverfront Parkway. As proposed, TIF funds would also be used for elements of Evergreen’s private development, including a medical office building and apartments. These buildings would be located on the four parcels within the TIF Plan Area. Property taxes on these improvements would be diverted from the city and county general funds (fire, police, etc.) to pay off the TIF project over a period that may last 18 years. 

Helen Burns Sharp
Accountability for Taxpayer Money-Chattanooga 

* * *

Anyone that acknowledges the time and effort that Helen Burns Sharp puts into these tax abatement analysis must realize she knows more about this subject that probably anyone else around. Also, having read so many of her writings and talking to her a few times, she is not against growth, however, she knows it takes work to evaluate these "improvements" and do it in a way that follows the law and puts the taxpayers first since they have skin in the game.

Some developers for profit will tell almost anyone, almost anything, in order to be sure that the profit is as large as possible, that is why they develop areas after all.  We need to encourage all local governments across this nation to look after the taxpayers money as well and Helen Burns Sharp does.

Come on folks, listen to her, she is doing an expert job without you even asking, don't waste her expertise.  

Joey Blevins 

* * * 

I wish to commend Helen Burns Sharp on the excellent professional work analyzing the proposed MLK Boulevard TIF. Yes, I said professional, not political. 

What strikes me is how the administration and City Council have to be educated from the outside in. It’s no wonder why citizens have grown so skeptical. Whatever position you might take the issue of this particular economic development incentive for this particular project, city government simply must start doing its job to inform citizens and itself on the costs and benefits of the various development incentives it has too long used with no governing strategies. I have news for you. Riverfront development, downtown to Southside, and Enterprise South are strategies all but implemented. 

I don’t have a precise count on the number of city funded agencies and personnel involved in planning and development, but it seems to me the job of providing objective information, pro and con, is theirs, not Ms. Sharp’s. It is incumbent on the mayor and city council to direct them in that manner, and then apply the community values they bring to their offices in making the ultimate decisions on the deployment of tax resources. 

It is fair to say that, from the mid-eighties through the establishment Enterprise South as a mega industrial site, Chattanooga implemented a clear set of highly successful economic development strategies. It is also fair to say local government has since failed to ask, must less answer, the question “what’s next.” Citizens and taxpayers deserve to see the cost/benefit of development incentives measured on a strategic basis. 

I can’t say whether or not I would agree with Helen Burns Sharp on every priority, but I appreciate greatly her insistence on honest analyses. 

Frank Wrinn



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