JOHNSON CITY - A resolution approving participation in the Johnson City Development Authority's downtown redevelopment plan using tax increment financing (TIF) was passed by the Washington County Commission Monday by a vote of 17-6.
The agreement with the JCDA calls for property taxes to be set on the assessed value of 1,700 parcels of land in downtown Johnson City. With any improvements made after the assessment, extra taxes collected over the base level would go into a fund managed by the JCDA and invested into the revitalization of downtown.
Commissioners Greg Matherly, Pete Speropulos, Paul Woodby, C.B. Kinch, Peggy Richardson, Frank Bolus, Jim Powell, Sid Campbell, Phil McPeak, Wendell Messimer, Bill Biles, Ron England, Scott Buckingham, Mark Larkey, Janice White, Ben Bowman and Pat Wolfe voted in favor of county participation in the TIF program.
Voting against the program were Commissioners Sam Humphreys, Richard Matherly, Mark Ferguson, Gerald Sparks, Evert Jarrett and Danny Edens.
Commissioners Mark Hicks and Kyle Shell abstained from the vote.
Ferguson said commissioners should be thinking about the county's current debt before adopting a program that could produce more.
"I'd just like the commission to think about what they're about to face before going into the TIF," Ferguson said.
"One, you've got a jail building program that's right now $3 million over budget, one of the biggest school building projects in the state, and a director who said that another one's coming right after these two (schools) are built. And now we're talking about freezing property taxes on 1,700 parcels of land.
"We were elected to be good stewards of the taxpayers' money. I just thought I'd like to say that before we vote."
Others, like Woodby, emphasized that this program wasn't just about Johnson City's needs.
"As I've discussed before, Washington County is made up of all the citizens of Washington County from Telford to Lamont Street (in Johnson City)," Woodby said. "I think that this is a situation where we need to come to the front of this thing."
Humphreys said the only way he could support participating in the TIF program was if the 1,700 parcels of land were reduced.
Commissioners did not address a funding mechanism for the county's school building and jail expansion and Justice Center projects.
The county has taken out more than $135 million in bonds to cover the expense of building two new pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade schools, renovations to David Crockett and Daniel Boone high schools, expanding the Washington County Detention Center in Jonesborough, and construction of a new Justice Center beside the detention center.
"We have to have something done by the time we pass next year's budget," said Wolfe, adding that it could be four to five months before commissioners address the issue."The earliest we usually pass a budget is August, but technically we don't have to have a final decision until then."