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Columbia Missourian

Council candidates support limited use of tax increment financing

By Andrew Van Dam
March 29, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Candidates angling for a City Council seat in the April 7 election all support limited and cautious use of tax increment financing and other tax incentives.

Jason Thornhill, who hopes to fill the Second Ward Council seat to be vacated by 18-year-incumbent Chris Janku, called tax increment financing and other incentives useful compromises.

What are TIFs?

Tax increment financing, or TIF, is an economic incentive that freezes the value of a property before any construction. As a developer improves a property, the difference between the frozen property value and the real property value is invested into a "special allocation fund," along with a percentage of the city's incremental sales and utility tax revenue. That money can then be used to pay for the redevelopment of infrastructure needs, such as improved sidewalks or relocated utilities.

Developers can receive TIF assistance only if their projects demonstrate “a substantial and significant public benefit,” such as creating new jobs, eliminating blight or strengthening Columbia’s economy. Developers also must demonstrate that their projects would be impossible without help from the city.

Taken from a Jan. 30, 2009 story by Missourian reporter Jewels Phraner.

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"They make the city better but don't have a direct cost to every citizen," Thornhill said. He said tax incentives allow "a developer to put his money where his mouth is."

Thornhill said he would work to bring successful models for the use of tax incentives to Columbia because a good quality of life isn't enough to bring in business on its own.

"They need official oversight, they need to be appropriate use," Thornhill said. "We need to be careful not to approve everything that's asked for."

Second Ward candidate Allan Sharrock, a teacher at Lange Middle School, agreed that the council should always consider the impact of tax increment financing on schools and children.

Sharrock said tax increment financing should be limited to "truly blighted" areas and projects the council thinks will add to total revenue rather than reduce it.

Sixth Ward challenger Rod Robison said he would work to bring new businesses into Columbia, but would "move really slowly" with tax increment financing applications because public schools need every penny of property tax revenue they can get.

The owners of The Tiger Hotel, who filed one of the first applications for tax increment financing to help pay for a conversion of the building to a boutique hotel, should receive the funding, Robison said. He said he hopes the building will become a beacon for downtown redevelopment.

Robison's opponent, one-term incumbent Barbara Hoppe, agreed.

Hoppe said tax increment financing approval is appropriate for The Tiger Hotel because of the hotel's historic character and the need to preserve it.

Hoppe expressed reservations about the other tax increment financing application being considered by the city's Tax Increment Financing Commission: a mixed-use development at Tenth and Locust streets proposed by Nathan and Jonathan Odle. The developers are planning an eight-story building featuring retail and office space, a grocery story, apartments and a rooftop swimming pool.

"I'd like to make sure on that one that there was something hard and fast with a grocery store," she said.