Lawmakers considering TIF district

Posted
Jim Therrien

jtherrien@benningtonbanner.com



BENNINGTON — A House bill aiming to lift the cap on Tax Increment Financing districts would apply only to Bennington, but amendments or other bills that could add additional communities to the list are under consideration in the Legislature.

The bill, H.215, was introduced by Reps. Mary Morrissey, R-Bennington, Timothy Corcoran II, D-Bennington, and others from the county delegation. It would authorize the Vermont Economic Progress Council to approve a TIF district for Bennington and would take effect upon passage.

The focus locally would be the area around the Four Corners downtown intersection in Bennington, where a major redevelopment project is proposed around the former Putnam Hotel building. If a TIF district is approved, the town would be able to borrow for infrastructure improvements to assist and spur private development within the district boundaries and use a portion of the additional tax revenue generated to pay off the bond.

The Bennington Redevelopment Group, LLC, which is led by a group of community leaders from local institutions, including the Bank of Bennington, Southwestern Vermont Health Care, Bennington College and Southern Vermont College, has an option to purchase several downtown buildings and proposes a multi-faceted project in the $50 million range.

Public investment in street and/or parking improvements has been mentioned as possible work the town could finance as part of a public-private partnership and development within a TIF district.

H.215 is now before the House Ways and Means Committee, which, according to committee member Rep. Cynthia Browning, D-Arlington, could become a key passageway for the legislation.

Browning, who opposes the concept of TIF financing, said that in the past the Senate has been more supportive of allowing new districts, but "the problem has been in the House."

"I actually don't support the idea of a TIF," she said, adding, "I don't think that is the way to do development."

Her concerns, she said, include that it can be argued a TIF supports private development that would have taken place without public investment, and that the additional property tax revenue generated and used to pay off the municipal bonds would come from the Education Fund.

"From my criteria, this isn't a wise use of public dollars," Browning said.

There currently are 11 TIF districts in the state, all established before the program was capped three years ago.

Proponents argue that TIF financing specifically targets the kind of public investment that is not likely to be undertaken by a community without a new source of revenue, and private development that would not likely be proposed otherwise.

They also note that all of the TIF districts in place today are "north of Route 4," arguing that communities in central and southern Vermont should have the same opportunity to develop key economic districts.

Bennington and several other communities agreed in January to jointly hire the firm White & Burke Real Estate Investment Advisors Inc., of Burlington, to lobby on their behalf to have the cap on TIF districts lifted. The communities showed an interest in joining a consortium included Rutland, Springfield, Newport, Montpelier, St. Johnsbury and Brattleboro.

According to Bennington Assistant Town Manager Daniel Monks, other bills currently before the Legislature refer at least in part to the TIF cap. Those include efforts to stimulate work force or affordable housing.

Reached via email on Thursday afternoon, David White, of White & Burke Real Estate Investment Advisors, said, "Removal of the prohibition on new TIF districts is contained in two bills. The first is H.181 which is a broad housing bill of with elimination of the TIF cap is one part."

"The second bill," White said, "has not yet been formally introduced. It is a committee bill (that does not yet have a bill number) being drafted by the Senate Committee on Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs. I expect them to vote it out of committee (perhaps as soon as tomorrow, but almost certainly no later than next week), and then it will likely go to the Senate Finance Committee as its next step."

Michael Keane, a Bennington Select Board member and member of the appointed Vermont Economic Progress Council, which helps oversee the TIF program, said he understands that the bill that names Bennington alone is in part considered "a placeholder," and that other bills or amendments are being considered as well.

He added that, taken together, the communities jointly advocating to lift the TIF cap "could have a lot of clout" in Montpelier, considering the number of legislators involved.

Morrissey said, however, that "it could be a positive, or it could be a negative," if multiple communities seek clearance to join the TIF program at the same time. It is unclear, she said, whether one town or several would have a better chance of winning legislative approval.

"Our goal is to have an open discussion and get the cap taken off," she said, adding that proponents "have to make sure any proposal going forward is a very solid proposal."

Monks said Gov. Phil Scott also is expected to comment on TIF proposals in his remarks Friday during Downtown Day at the Statehouse.

And the Vermont Mayors Coalition, with eight members, has listed lifting the TIF cap as one of the group's goals for the legislative session.

Vermont has had a TIF program since 1985. TIF financing programs exist in various formats in states across the country.

Jim Therrien writes for the Bennington Banner and VTDigger.org. @BB_therrien on Twitter.




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