County looks at special district for bolstering infrastructure

Hancock Health's Gateway complex at Mt. Comfort Road and Interstate 70 is in one of county's existing TIF districts, which diverts some property tax revenue to pay for infrastructure improvements sought by business prospects eyeing expansion in the area. (File photo)

HANCOCK COUNTY — Leaders are considering establishing a special district that would set aside certain tax funds for infrastructure improvements to aid economic development.

It’s called a tax increment financing district and would be between County Road 500N, Interstate 70 and County Road 800W. The district’s eastern boundary would be 700W between I-70 and 400N, before jutting east about halfway to Mt. Comfort Road before continuing north back up to 500N.

After a TIF district is created, the amount of taxes generated up to that point continue going to all of the usual sources, while taxes generated by new development after that point can get set aside for redevelopment commissions to use for improvements to the district. The mechanism is used to draw companies to areas where officials want to see economic development occur.

The proposed district borders the western boundary of one of the county’s existing TIF districts. That district has been so successful that now the county is getting more requests for development outside of it, said Randy Sorrell, executive director of the Hancock County Economic Development Council.

Three companies are planning multiple large, move-in-ready speculative buildings in that area and would benefit from improved roads.

“They have some infrastructure needs and it would be a good mechanism for that to occur,” Sorrell said.

There are some residences in the area. While they would be part of a newly created economic development area, they would be carved out of the actual tax increment financing allocation area.

TIF districts have to be within an economic development area. It wouldn’t be practical to include the houses in the allocation area, however, because existing properties, especially residential ones, don’t provide much incremental tax value.

The Hancock County Commissioners have asked the county redevelopment commission to explore the new TIF district — the first step in its creation process. The redevelopment commission has given its initial approval of the district and it heads next to the county plan commission, which will consider it for advisory approval. Then the county commissioners consider it. If passed, it heads back to the redevelopment commission, which would commission a tax impact statement explaining all of the financial ramifications of the district. Then there would be a public hearing that all of the affected taxing units and property owners would be notified about before final consideration from the redevelopment commission.

It would be the fifth TIF district in unincorporated Hancock County. Along with the one just to the east of the proposed district, one is south of I-70 mainly between 525W and Cumberland, one encompasses the Gateway Hancock Health property at I-70 and Mt. Comfort Road, and one encompasses the Mount Comfort RV property at 5935 W. 225N.

As approval processes get underway for that TIF district, initial conversations have begun over another potential one along North State Road 9 in and around Maxwell.

Jim Shelby, a Hancock County Council member, said it would likely be different from the county’s other TIF districts.

“One of the objectives in doing this is to keep that area focused on the commercial and residential, as opposed to big box development,” he said at a meeting on the subject earlier this month between leaders in county government and economic development.

Water and sewer service would be the primary infrastructure needs funded by that district, as opposed to road improvements, Shelby said.

NineStar Connect is the water and sewer service provider for that area. Michael Burrow, president and CEO of the utility co-op, said the district would need a sewage treatment plant, a water tower and water and sewer mains along North State Road 9.

Burrow said NineStar is estimating high, but believes it could be accomplished for $20 million, likely less.