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Proposed commission aimed at bringing new financial tools

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Bartholomew County officials are creating a county redevelopment department and redevelopment commission to increase economic opportunities outside the Columbus city limits.

County Commissioners Carl Lienhoop and Rick Flohr approved an ordinance on first reading Tuesday establishing the department and commission. Commissioner Larry Kleinhenz was not at the meeting.

The county redevelopment commission will consist of three members appointed by the commissioners, two appointed by the county council and a nonvoting member from the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. appointed by the commissioners.

Members would evaluate development projects on a case-by-case basis, he said.

Lienhoop said the only county money spent to create the department and commission would be to hire Indianapolis law firm Barnes & Thornburg to handle any legal work and Indianapolis financial adviser H.J. Umbaugh & Associates to handle any financial analysis.

Both groups would be funded by the county out of a consultant fund line item in the county budget, Lienhoop said. The fund contains $50,000 in this year’s budget, and county officials have projected the same amount for 2015.

Lienhoop said the Columbus Economic Development Board, which works to create development in Columbus and the county, has insisted for years that the county would be able to attract development deals if a redevelopment commission existed and the county creates a tax-increment financing (TIF) district.

“We want to be as open and upfront about this as we can,” Lienhoop said. “To me, you need to have the right projects to have this tool or you shouldn’t do it.”

Companies are looking at other counties with sites that have existing infrastructure and financial incentives, said Jason Hester, Columbus Economic Development Board executive director.

Many of the county properties the economic development board is marketing consist of farm fields with no utilities or road access, lacking something developers usually can find elsewhere if they keep looking, Hester said.

Hester said there aren’t any potential developments in the pipeline, but having the help of a county redevelopment department and new financial tools will increase the chances of landing new deals.

At Tuesday’s meeting, county residents Tom Heller and Mike Lovelace said they weren’t in favor of the ordinance and creating a county TIF district, saying any revenue generated could become a slush fund for county officials.

Flohr said he wasn’t initially in support of the plan either, but after researching how TIF districts work, he can see the potential upside to the development tool.

“If that (property) is paying $6,000 in property taxes, that $6,000 is still going to go where it has always gone,” he said. “Then the potential growth of whatever is there, eventually that’s going to pay off for the county.”

New development could mean more people could move to the area to work and live, spending money locally and pumping revenue into the economy, Flohr said.

The commissioners will meet to discuss a second reading of the ordinance at 10 a.m. Monday in the commissioner chambers at 440 Third St.

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