County approves urban renewal district, use of TIF

The use of $5 million in tax increment financing (TIF) revenue to build a regional career academy is nearly a “done deal.” The Greene County supervisors on Monday approved the first reading of the ordinance needed to establish a urban renewal district including the first 41 Beaver Creek wind turbines.
The county can now sell revenue bonds to provide funds for construction. The principle and interest on the bonds will be paid with the increased property tax revenue received by the county on the wind turbines. The amount of tax paid on properties in the urban renewal district prior to establishing the district will continue to go into the county’s coffers.

It is the first time in decades the county has assumed debt.

The public hearing needed to designate the urban renewal district was a salute to the county. Several people involved with the career academy project from the start used it as an opportunity to thank the supervisors and again tout the academy’s potential.

Local banker Sid Jones commended the supervisors for having the “courage to step out and do things that haven’t been done before.” He said the career academy “is a very big issue for Greene County. The changes we’ll see from it we can’t even fathom today.”

Greene County Development Corporation executive director Ken Paxton said he’s received comments about the project at statewide meetings. “There’s a lot of people who think you’ve done a really wonderful thing,” Paxton said.

Norm Fandel, a member of the GCDC and the Midwest Partnership boards, and Sarah Gomez, executive director of Midwest Partnership, thanked the supervisors for leadership and adding to the economic development tool kit.

Greene County Schools superintendent Tim Christensen reported that meetings with advanced manufacturers about the curriculum at the academy are going well, and that the opportunities coming from Pillar Technologies’ role are “extremely exciting.”

Patti Naylor, who is running for the District 3 county supervisor position, asked if the supervisors have done a fiscal impact statement and where information is available to the public about the debt payment schedule. “I wonder if the public really understands the complexity of this and what’s going to happen in the future,” Naylor said.

Board chair John Muir said the supervisors have seen all the figures and they’re available in the auditor’s office. He assured Naylor the supervisors are sure there will be money to service the debt. “We’ve asked a lot of questions. We looked into it as deep as we could,” Muir said.

Supervisor Peter Bardole said the supervisors have all been on both sides of the issue. He said that in the end, he sees the career academy as a way to keep younger residents in the county and to support local employers, protecting the property tax base and ultimately spreading out the property tax burden rather than increasing taxes on ag land.

Supervisor Dawn Rudolph said it’s a challenge to keep retail businesses in the county, so focusing on industry is important. “That’s where most of the jobs are,” she said.

Supervisor Tom Contner called the use of TIF for the career academy “a good thing for Greene County. I’m kind of frugal, but like everybody says, if we keep kids in Greene County, teach them a trade in two years, that means a lot to me… It’s a good thing for everybody.”

“After research, we thought it was a worthwhile investment of the tax money from the windmills. It will benefit everybody who wants to take advantage of it,” Muir said.

The public hearing lasted 16 minutes. The supervisors then approved the needed resolution. Click here to read it.

The county intends to use the first $5 million in TIF revenue for the regional career academy, and to fund roads projects as well. The resolution includes both uses. Total TIF revenues from the first 41 wind turbines has been estimated at $11.8 million.

The resolution also mentions housing projects. Housing projects qualify under the Code of Iowa as economic development and can be funded with TIF revenues, but the county has no intention of doing so at this time.

Assistant county attorney Thomas Laehn explained to GCNO that including that language now will allow the supervisors at some future point to amend the urban renewal plan and to include additional projects involving the acquisition of land for housing.

There has been no public discussion by the supervisors of any future housing projects.

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