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Editorial: County wise to reverse course on commission

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Bartholomew County Commissioners wisely exercised a spirit of caution in backing off a proposal to create a countywide redevelopment commission.

The caution came from a realization that this likely was an endeavor that would never get off the ground in the first place and that to continue on a Don Quixote-like quest would have sparked a needless fight.

The unlikelihood of the proposal being enacted immediately became clear when a majority of the County Council members indicated they would vote against such a plan. More nails were added to the coffin through public comment directed at the commissioners, almost all of it negative.

Public reaction at a commissioners meeting last month focused on concerns that such a redevelopment commission would have the authority to exercise eminent domain in matters of land acquisition for development.

To that point, Commissioner Larry Kleinhenz noted that government bodies such as the commissioners already have eminent domain authority but rarely have exercised it in the past.

While the matter of eminent domain raises some obvious emotional concerns — longtime Columbus residents can remember the furor in 1989 when one city official innocently used the phrase in discussions over contract negotiations to acquire land on Jonathan Moore Pike for a proposed golf course — it would seem that a far more pertinent issue would be the effect creation of another tax revenue recipient would have on existing taxing units.

A redevelopment commission would allow the county to create tax-increment financing districts to help pay for growth in targeted areas, much like the system that was developed in Columbus a decade ago that since has helped finance the revitalization of the downtown area.

While those projects have had a very positive economic impact on the overall community, they also drained significant revenues from other taxing units in the short term.

Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. officials, for instance, estimate the TIF funding has reduced corporation revenues by more than $1.4 million a year. To their credit, school officials remained on the sidelines during the debate about the city’s redevelopment philosophy, choosing instead to judge the effort by its effect on the overall community.

That should be an approach adopted by all parties in the future. If the major intent of a redevelopment commission is to improve economic development in the county, a vehicle for that purpose already exists: the Columbus Economic Development Board.

County officials and members of that body should re-commit to a philosophy of collaboration in improving the economic climate by encouraging new investment and fostering the assets that already are here. It is important to recognize Columbus is part of Bartholomew County.

A good model for going forward would be the hands-off philosophy adopted by Bartholomew Consolidated School officials when the city went to TIF funding in 2003.

They maintained the same stance during preliminary discussions with county officials on their plans this year but expressed relief when the matter was finally tabled.

That’s an emotion a number of people in Bartholomew County are experiencing.

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