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G-C raises concerns over TIF district

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GREENFIELD — A new pot of money to revitalize downtown Greenfield could negatively impact Greenfield-Central Schools, G-C officials say, and they plan to voice concern at a March 12 public hearing.

On the table is a new Tax Increment Finance district for downtown Greenfield, which would capture property taxes on new commercial development in the downtown area for the next 25 years and put the money toward grants and revitalization projects.

The TIF district has been breezing through the public approval process so far. But officials with Greenfield-Central schools say while the plan wouldn’t affect current money in the school budget, it would cut them short of revenue in the future.

Superintendent Linda Gellert has one solution: give the schools a break on utility bills to make up for the revenue the schools will miss out on.

“We acknowledge the importance of an attractive, vital downtown, and we certainly support that. We need to be a part of that,” Gellert said. “Having said that, in part of the TIF (plan), there’s apartments that will be constructed along the (Pennsy) Trail that will bring families, perhaps. And those families will bring a burden on the school. Any revenue under the TIF would be diverted to the city instead of the schools.”

While there are apartments listed as possible new commercial development in downtown Greenfield, city planner Joanie Fitzwater said nothing is set in stone. But Gellert says since the school pays hefty bills to Greenfield Utilities, the city should give them a break on electric, water or sewer bills in the future.

The $780,000 annual electric bill for the school corporation, for example, could be cut by whatever money is taken from the school for the city’s TIF district.

Gellert said she’s proposed her idea to city officials, but she hasn’t received a response yet. Utility director Mike Fruth said the idea is still under consideration, but ultimately the city council would have to approve it.

Gellert and several school board members plan to be at the March 12 public hearing on the TIF district to voice concern.

“In all fairness, maybe they will,” she said. “I’m hoping there’s some middle ground here.”

The TIF district has been on the city’s long-range plan since 2004. Last year, a series of public meetings was held to dream about a new blueprint for a pedestrian-friendly downtown with greenways, parks and residential areas.

The proposed district would be bordered mostly by Osage Street to the south, Swope Street to the east and Broadway Street to the west. The northern boundary of the district varies from Main Street to Grant Street.

How much the TIF district could generate in revenue every year is unknown.

“It’s all kind of ‘what if’ stuff,” said Buzz Krohn, controller for the city. “It depends on what gets built and what gets torn down. I understand they’re probably going to see some folks show up at the hearing, but if nothing gets built, nothing happens.”

Still, at least one new piece of development is about to break ground. A new manufacturing business at Osage and Center streets could generate roughly $25,000 of revenue annually for downtown revitalization. Krohn said J&J Engineering would have paid about $7,000 of that in taxes to the school, but if the TIF district is approved, all of the money would go toward downtown revitalization.

Plans call for a Riley Literary Trail;, a new harvest market park; a splash pad; enhanced building facades; and improved sidewalks. Money from the TIF district could go directly toward those projects, or be used as matching funds for grants.

Retta Livengood can see both sides of the coin. President of both the G-C school board and the Greenfield Area Chamber of Commerce, Livengood said the downtown area needs to thrive, but school officials are concerned any time a program will impact the budget, big or small.

“We’re very pleased we’ve maintained good financial health, but we struggle every day to do that,” she said. “I don’t know that we have the power to do anything about it, other than voice that concern. We’re all in it for our community to be good.”

Kathy Dowling knows exactly what it’s like to only be able to speak about a concern but not be able to do anything about it. Dowling is a member of the city’s redevelopment commission – the board that could give final approval to the plan March 12 – but she’s a non-voting member.

Dowling spoke up late last month at the RDC meeting on the issue, raising red flags on behalf of the school district. But she said it’s frustrating not being able to vote on the matter.

“I think everybody on the school board is definitely an advocate for Greenfield and our town,” Dowling said. “It’s just the way it’s run. We want to make sure we do it right, make sure it doesn’t stress the schools … that it’s not too much of a burden, that we’ve looked at every avenue before we’ve made a decision.”

But while city officials say they hear G-C’s concerns loud and clear, the benefits of downtown revitalization far outweigh the harm the district could cause the schools. Both the city council and plan commission moved the proposal forward this month with little discussion.

“I’m very passionate that the downtown is the core of the city, and you must take care of the core,” said council member Judy Swift. “To do that, it takes money, and honestly – we need money. So I know it’s going to take away a little bit from the schools, but I don’t think it’s going to be devastating to the schools.”

Mayor Chuck Fewell points out that the city has few opportunities to generate revenue for revitalization.

“I certainly understand it’s taking money from students,” he said. “We don’t want to do that, either, but sometimes the impairment of the city to do things to raise money – it’s very limited. We don’t have a lot of ability to raise funds.”

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