A tiff over TIF

A person can get quite an education by attending city government meetings, but advanced degrees are available during lightly attended pre-meeting meetings like our council’s workshop session a couple of days ago. 

Often, these workshops give council members the opportunity to give us a peek into what they really think, or fail to consider, about issues that have an effect on residents and businesses here. 

Rocker heard that a local small business owner asked the council to consider granting some Tax Incentive Funds (TIF) to assist with an EPA/DEQ mandated project. FYI: Money is collected in the form of a special sales tax by businesses within a designated TIF district. We’re told those dollars are collected by the sales tax office and placed in a TIF fund.

Those dollars can be accessed, by request, for economic develop and improvements that will lead to said development. We’re told money is collected from the business and is available to those that meet certain standards. Our council decides who qualifies.

During the work session, one counciler questioned whether this particular request met criteria for economic development, hinting that it was just a request for money that would financially benefit the owner. Yes, TIF is designed for economic improvement. But, a thinker might ask, why wouldn’t any improvement to any business be considered economically beneficial?

In this case, the above mentioned agencies have dictated that this business mitigate a huge underground storage tank, either by removal or other approved method. We understand the business owner plans to save a bundle of money by filling the tank with sand. That is, of course, unless the council pours sand over his request.

We read that Minden’s financial director explained that when EPA/DEQ issues a directive concerning hazardous situations on property, any improvements made to remedy the situations are considered economic development. That opinion, we’re told, came from the attorney who drew the local TIF districts and the rules that apply.

But in the eyes of somebody on the council, what does a lawyer know? Question was asked if this improvement would help the city or the owner. Answer could be the city would benefit more by helping this business remedy a potentially hazardous situation. Just ask those businesses located near the old Imperial Cleaners. Just ask the ordinary citizen (who also votes).

It’s only our opinion, but economic development is much more. It’s preserving and protecting those existing businesses that already pay taxes, provide payroll, make donations to local schools, charities and events. Local business and industry is an integral part of the economic growth and development of any city.

A town that doesn’t spend equally as much energy in providing assistance for its existing business and industry as it does seeking new is, in fact, stepping back. There’s a myopic attitude here that needs to be corrected. The vision of our “leaders” needs to be more broadly fine-tuned. A bigger picture can be revealed.

This TIF request is scheduled to appear on the council’s next agenda. One can only wonder if this group will consider what this decision will say to the next person or business that seeks their assistance. Remember what R. Reagan said: “We’re from the government and we’re here to help” are very scary words. Indeed.