WHILE there has been some controversy surrounding individual instances of tax increment financing on revitalization projects in Columbus, the city’s usage of these funds stands as a shining example of forward thinking and responsible government.
Compared to some other Hoosier cities that have turned to this method of financing for major civic projects — particularly Carmel’s cash-strapped redevelopment commission — Columbus emerges as a role model for how to do it right.
One major difference between the situations in Columbus and Carmel is that Columbus has money in the bank from its TIF revenues. Carmel’s mayor, on the other hand, is in the process of asking his City Council for $183 million in bonds to help pay the commission’s $287 million in debt incurred for revitalization projects.
Coming in for a great share of the credit for this approach locally would be the Columbus Redevelopment Commission. Most recently Mayor Kristen Brown — who also chairs the redevelopment commission — was praised for her leadership in bringing a greater sense of transparency to government dealings, thus reducing the chances that Columbus would fall into a Carmel-like situation.
Currently Columbus has four TIF districts that started the year with $1.3 million in the bank. That increased to $2.2 million through July 31 and is projected to reach $3.6 million by the end of the year.
The city is receiving enough money from property taxes in the districts to cover the debt on projects and take on new missions, such as the relighting of the Second Street bridge and the lighting of the Interstate 65 bridge over Indiana 46.
While Brown’s dedication to transparency is obviously important in maintaining a solid bank balance and revenue stream, it should also be noted that the original redevelopment commission headed by Columbus businessman Tom Vujovich started the whole process on solid ground.
When considering the enormous transformation that has taken place in the downtown area during the past five years, it is obvious that the community got more than its dollar’s worth for what exists today.
It was accomplished through a variety of means, not the least of which would be the creative approach taken in developing a concept for the downtown and implementing it through a mix of public and private funds.
During this process, the redevelopment commission came under fire from some elements within the community for some of those creative steps used in attracting investments in the area. The provision of incentives from both the public and private sectors to developers of the Cole Apartments has drawn special criticism.
Those critics overlook, however, the critical role that this single element plays in the downtown plan.
Central to the success of downtown’s revitalization has been the need to provide housing in the downtown area. It was an important link in a chain that included a major expansion by Cummins Inc. that added more than 1,500 people to its downtown operations. One wonders if that expansion would have taken place had not a plan been in place to provide housing for many of those workers. The addition of hundreds of downtown residents has obvious side benefits for downtown businesses, such as restaurants and retail establishments.
Columbus is already enjoying the financial benefits of the revitalization projects as evidenced by the bank balances in the four districts.
Judging by the growth rate in those balances, it is fair to say that the best is yet to come.