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Washington commissioners want more information on TIF

BEN INGRAM • Jan 17, 2007 at 10:42 AM

JOHNSON CITY - For Washington County commissioners, it's not that they are against the Johnson City Development Authority's downtown redevelopment plan using tax increment financing.

What they'd like is a better explanation about their involvement if they decide to participate in a program that calls for the redevelopment of 1,700 parcels of land in downtown Johnson City.

Commissioners tabled a motion last month that would have included the county in the JCDA's redevelopment plan, citing a lack of information. The commission's Commercial, Industrial and Agriculture Committee voted 4-1 last week that the plan be rejected by the county.

"I think a lot of us wanted to know such things as how long the deal would last - 20, 30 years?" Commissioner Jim Powell said.

The JCDA was hoping for cooperation from the county in order to issue 20-year bonds for redevelopment.

"If it is that long, can we obligate a future commission (to the program)?" Powell asked. "I voted to table it because it was something that was sprung on us, and the information needs to be presented and put out to the whole commission."

County Attorney John Rambo was asked by commissioners to provide answers, including how the county's involvement in the program would affect future tax increases. He will present his findings to the commission on Monday.

"Any tax increases used to pay for the county's debt would not be affected," Rambo said. "Commissioners also expressed their desire to know how the county would opt out of the program if they chose to do so. Essentially, (Johnson City's) attorney and I agreed that we could come up with some kind of agreement that would enable the county to do so.

"Also, any bonds issued toward the new building program would not be affected if the county chose to get involved."

Last month, Rambo told commissioners that an interlocal agreement would best preserve the county's flexibility if at some point they chose not to participate in the TIF program - one in which property taxes are set on the assessed value of a property. Then, with any improvements made over the years, the extra taxes collected above the base level are put into a fund managed by the development authority and invested into the revitalization of downtown Johnson City.

Most commissioners seemed to be in a wait-and-see mode when questioned about which way they would cast their vote a second time around.

"I think I know how I'm going to vote, but I want to listen more," said Commissioner Sam Humphreys. "I've talked with my constituents, and they have told me that they're in favor of the program, but I'd still like to get answers on how long the agreement will last, and if five years down the road it got bad, would we be able to get out of it."

Commissioner Pete Speropulos said the TIF program wasn't something he was prepared to address at last month's commission meeting.

"There is already a lot of money going out with the school bonds that I didn't want to have to commit to something for 20 years without knowing enough about it," Speropulos said. "There are just too many variables. I know the county wouldn't lose any money on it, but it's that over and above portion of the tax dollars going to the program that I'd like to see some numbers on."

Commissioner Mark Ferguson said he wouldn't attempt to get the TIF program off the table at this time. Ferguson is concerned about how the county will repay the bonds issued for the school building and jail building/justice center programs.

"Right now, we need to look at the whole picture and address this building program first, which is what is in front of us," Ferguson said.

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