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G-C board member raises worries about tax district

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GREENFIELD — Plans to set up a pot of money for downtown revitalization moved forward this week, though one member of the city’s redevelopment commission voiced concern over how the concept could financially hurt Greenfield-Central schools.

City officials are hoping to create a new downtown Tax Increment Finance district, capturing property taxes on future commercial development and putting the money toward grants and revitalization projects.

The Greenfield Redevelopment Commission voted unanimously Thursday in favor of the concept, which now heads to the city’s planning commission and city council for further approval.

But a non-voting member of the board – Kathy Dowling, who represents the G-C School Board – reminded the group that even though the new TIF district wouldn’t take away money from the school system’s current budget, it would take away future tax dollars from businesses that locate in the district.

“Any time you’re taking money away from a strapped school system, of course we’re concerned,” Dowling said.

City officials are hoping to get the TIF district approved quickly because a new manufacturing business at Osage and Center streets could generate nearly $25,000 of revenue annually for downtown revitalization. J&J Engineering plans to break ground on a new building this spring, and instead of roughly $7,000 of new property tax money going to G-C schools, all of the revenue would be put into a fund for downtown projects.

While Dowling raised concern over the TIF district, all other members of the commission were in favor of it and asked few questions Thursday.

In fact, the public-approval process is moving forward smoothly overall. The TIF district has been in the city’s long-range plans since 2004, and last year, a series of public meetings was held to dream about a new blueprint for a pedestrian-friendly district with greenways, parks and residential areas.

The city council agreed unanimously last week to spend money on legal documents for the district. The city’s planning commission is scheduled to review the plan Feb. 10, and the city council is set to give another nod of approval Feb. 12.

The redevelopment commission will hold a public hearing and final approval at a meeting tentatively set for March 3.

“This redevelopment plan would be a great way to capitalize on our assets and grow what we already know – food, art and literature,” said Joanie Fitzwater, planning director for the city.

Fitzwater and Buzz Krohn, city utility controller, gave a presentation to the commission on Thursday. Just what a TIF district could mean financially for the city is based entirely on how many new commercial and non-residential developments arise in the next few years.

But Fitzwater said preserving historic buildings, creating a Riley Literary Trail, a new harvest market park and a splash pad are all ideas for a new, vibrant downtown.

Krohn told the group of the financial success of the city’s northern TIF district. In place since 1994, the area around Interstate 70 has generated $27 million in revenue. Most of that money has gone back toward infrastructure projects, Krohn said, including construction of roundabouts, utilities into Progress Park and the north side water tower.

“We’ve used that money for public infrastructure projects,” Krohn said. “We haven’t built a Palladium or any of those types of things. We feel like we’re doing the right thing here in Greenfield.”

City engineer Karla Vincent also gave the group an update on current and near-future projects from TIF revenue on the city’s north side. The current sewer extension project along Broadway Street is one project that will eventually be linked to Progress Park, for example, and city officials hope to soon landscape the interchange at Ind. 9 and Interstate 70 to make for an appealing entrance into the city.

TIF money from the city’s north side will also help pay for the $10 million Potts Ditch tunnel relocation project, slated to begin this spring. Roughly $500,000 of TIF money will pay off project debt annually for the next 15 years, Krohn said, and the commission will be called together to approve of that in March.

While on a smaller scale from the north side TIF district, the new downtown TIF could generate revenue for revitalization projects that would bring more businesses and residents to the area, Fitzwater said. Money could be used as the local match for federal grants, for example.

An estimated 24,000 vehicles pass through the district daily, she added, and 63,000 potential customers or shoppers are within a 10-mile radius of the district. If more amenities are added, it could help downtown businesses thrive and grow.

“It’s a 20-year plan,” Fitzwater said. “It won’t happen overnight, but I think you’ll be surprised at what you see in the next two years.”

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