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Editorial: Council made right decision on TIF funds

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Paying for important municipal projects is an ongoing challenge for government leaders in Columbus and elsewhere, especially when budgets are tight.

So when a good funding source comes along, grabbing it makes sense.

That’s what the Columbus City Council did July 1 when it voted to collect all the money available from one of its tax-increment financing districts, rather than forgo $3 million next year.

Council members said $3 million from TIF funds could be used to pay for three projects the city is considering.

Those include renovations to the downtown Crump Theatre and Custer-Nugent Amphitheater at Mill Race Park and development of an industrial park at the site of the old Walesboro airport.

Mayor Kristen Brown had asked the council to forgo $3 million next year, and the Columbus Redevelopment Commission supported that proposal.

Doing so would have allowed Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp., the public library and other government entities to collect property taxes on a combined $127 million in excess assessed property value in the Central TIF District.

That was a noble proposal because businesses and some taxpayers, both inside and outside the city limits, would have received lower tax bills.

Also, the proposal was noble because these taxing bodies typically don’t receive the revenue.

Each year the Columbus Redevelopment Commission determines what portion of a TIF district’s excess assessed value it wants to allow other entities to collect taxes on.

The redevelopment commission typically spends those funds on infrastructure improvements, redevelopment and projects that benefit the community.

However, a new state law that took effect July 1 requires a redevelopment commission to report its decision to a city council if the commission is projected to spend less than half of the revenue from the TIF district.

The council then can approve, deny or modify the commission’s plan.

The council decided it was better to keep all the Central TIF District’s projected revenue — $5.4 million — so that it would have extra funds to apply to the projects.

We believe the council made the right decision.

The city budgets have been lean during the mayor’s 2½ years in office, an effort to be good stewards of taxpayer money. That’s appreciated.

However, the Crump, amphitheater and industrial park have been identified as three projects that would benefit the community. Combined with the other projects that could receive TIF money, the total price tag could reach $50 million.

Finding ways to save money for these projects now rather than later makes sense. So does collecting the TIF money available.

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