County takes ‘baby steps’ on redevelopment TIF

Nearly eight years after the Bartholomew County Redevelopment Commission was founded, the organization is preparing to shift into a new phase.

However, members have chosen to cautiously take baby steps toward utilizing tax increment financing’ (TIF) funds in German Township for economic development purposes.

The principle behind TIF is to capture future increased tax dollars generated by a new business – and then use those funds to improve a particular geographic area. Improvements might mean road upgrades, water lines, sewer extensions, rail spurs, provide workforce training, site development and other amenities. The goal is to create an company-friendly area that maintains current employers and attracts new corporations.

For several years after the redevelopment commission was created, the 231-acre Meadow Lawn Farm located south of Taylorsville remained the only TIF district operated by Bartholomew County government. While a number of companies briefly considered Meadow Lawn, nearly all chose other locations.

But when the TIF district was expanded by nearly 3,000 additional acres in late 2019, business activity began to pick up. In addition, a three-member Bartholomew County Economic Development Commission was created last year in order to hold funds acquired in a TIF district, as well as control anticipation bonds to help fund construction for a new company.

Companies that have recently announced planned expansions within the TIF district include Georg Utz Inc., Peer Food Group (parent company of Mariah Foods) and Tsune America, LLC. Meanwhile, R&L Carriers plans to open a 105,000-square-foot cross-dock faciltiy in two years, while Force Holdings Inc. has built four speculative shell company facilities that can be tailored specifically to a manufacturer’s needs.

Right now, the TIF district only has $4,707. But with a number of companies finishing their work, the total TIF amount is expected to grow to $117,227 by the end of the year, commission members said.

While that may sound like a lot to some, “it’s hard to do any infrastructure at all for $100,000,” redevelopment commission member and county Commissioner Carl Lienhoop said.

He suggested the county keep building the fund’s balance until it reaches at least a half-million dollars before any money is spent on infrastructure.

Most new companies in this area of German Township between Taylorsville and Edinburgh have been provided with tax abatements, but none have requested TIF funding. That’s because all are aware there’s very little in that fund right now, Bartholomew County Deduction and Real Estate Administrator Chris West said.

No company pays into the fund until after its new or upgraded facility is completed and assessed, West said. Once that threshold is crossed, the payments into the TIF fund begin the following year.

Greater Columbus Economic Development Corp. President Jason Hester agreed with Lienhoop, saying “You need to grow that balance, so that the county can actually do something with TIF.”

Hester is urging the redevelopment commission to hire either an outside counsel or a financial adviser capable of leading future discussions and offering advice.

Redevelopment commission president and county council member Jorge Morales agreed, saying that while elected and appointed officials have general knowledge of how TIFs work, none have the expertise required to prepare the county to fully implement the economic development tool.

“You do need someone to make sure you are dotting your ‘i’s and crossing your ‘t’s,” Bartholomew County Auditor Pia O’Connor said. “I recommend that you get an attorney that has done redevelopment work.”

On a motion made by member Dan Arnholt, the redevelopment commission unanimously agreed to not spend TIF money in the immediate future. His motion also included looking for either appropriate legal support or a qualified financial consultant.