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02-28-06 Citizens challenge city on complex TIF issue

By Tim Cox

  Although it permeates -- and sometimes dominates -- discussions among Celina city officials, many people continue to be confused by TIFs, tax increment finance districts.

  Two local residents questioned and criticized city officials at Monday's council meeting about the use of TIFs to fund local projects. One resident held city officials' feet to the fire on treating everyone fairly with the use of TIF money. Another citizen compared the use of TIFs in the city to the birth of the Nazi movement in pre-World War II Germany.

  Generally speaking, TIFs divert real estate taxes on new development into separate accounts to help fund public infrastructure projects in that area. City officials currently are planning a number of TIF-funded projects, including the proposed West Bank Rotary Walkway, a Market Street water line replacement and the burial of some telephone lines to assist a local business.

  Resident Don Kohnen asked city officials if they are prepared to assist other property owners with the burial of utility lines they might find unsightly. City officials are working on a plan to pay $79,000 to Verizon to have the company bury a stretch of lines that cross the property at 945 S. Main St. where businessman Bud Schoenleben plans to open a new Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep dealership.

  A representative of a local church told city planning commission members this week that when the church expands, some Verizon lines will need to be moved.  "How many are going to come to the city and say, 'How about us?' " Kohnen said. "How do you expect to answer that?"

  Council members noted the TIF money will be fully recouped through tax revenue generated by Schoenleben's $3 million investment and creation of 32 new jobs.

  Council President Bill Sell said city officials must balance economic development issues with "parity and equity."

  Thomas Chivers, a frequent critic of city officials, said city officials are unfairly taking tax money from entities such as the county Council on Aging and the Board of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities by using TIF districts. Those entities lose some of their tax base when TIFs are created, he charged.

  Chivers likened the city's use of TIF money to fund various projects to Adolf Hitler's looting of Germany's social services programs to fund his war machine in the years before World War II. When Chivers compared the city to the birth of the Nazi regime, Councilman Rick Bachelor interjected.

  Entities with tax levies in a TIF still receive all the funding voters approved for them, Bachelor said. However, those entities do not collect taxes on increases in property values due to new development, he said.

  Council President Bill Sell asked consultant Kent Bryan to weigh in on "Celina's slide toward national socialism."

  City, county and township tax coffers lose some money to TIFs, but organizations and offices with tax levies do not lose any funding, he said.

  "It's a complex discussion," Bryan said, noting he would be willing to sit down with Chivers or anyone else to sort out the nuances of TIF funding.

  Chivers wasn't satisfied with the explanation.

  "I don't care how you cook the books, these people still suffer," Chivers said.


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