Friday, June 14, 2013
 
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Downtown TIF district a step closer for the city of Lincoln

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[June 14, 2013]  Tuesday evening the Lincoln City Council conducted its committee of the whole workshop with a long list of items on the agenda.

Among those items was a discussion on the progress made thus far on establishing a TIF district for the downtown portion of the city.

City administrator Sue McLaughlin told the council that the TIF review committee -- which consists of council members Kathy Horn, Tom O'Donohue, Bruce Carmitchel, Mayor Keith Snyder and herself -- had reviewed a set of policies she had put together for administering the TIF.

McLaughlin said she had put the document together for the city of Lincoln by reviewing policy documents from cities such as Jacksonville, Bloomington, Springfield and a couple of other communities in the southern part of the state. She had taken what she felt were the best portions of those policies and tweaked them into a workable document for Lincoln.

She said the committee had reviewed and tweaked the document, and it had also been reviewed by John Myers, who is the city's TIF consultant.

McLaughlin told the council that within the policy there were still two specific areas that were not settled, and those would end up being the focus of the council's discussion.

The first issue was whether or not to include roofs as allowable repairs or restorations in the TIF program.

TIF, or tax increment financing, is a program that serves multiple purposes. First, it provides money to downtown businesses and developers so they can make improvements on their buildings. These projects for existing buildings generally involve making fašade improvements that enhance the look of the building and the overall aesthetic of the downtown area.

When the work is done, the end goal is to raise the assessed value of the building on the tax rolls. The city then benefits in that it gets to claim for its coffers the difference between the former tax assessment and the new tax assessment. The city can then use this money in a variety of ways, including offering it to other businesses for their improvements or using it to make general improvements to the downtown area, such as those included in the downtown revitalization program.

Roofs came into question for the committee because this type of work does not normally increase the assessed value of a property. However, this is also something that is needed by many of the downtown businesses.

McLaughlin said that as the committee discussed this, a suggestion from the mayor was that perhaps the city could allow roofs for multiple businesses if it represented a significant savings for them to work together and have roof work done all at once.

After McLaughlin outlined this, Snyder asked if the council had any thoughts.

O'Donohue said he felt it was a mixed bag. He said he realized that many cities don't allow roofs in their TIF, but he sees there is a need in Lincoln for roof repair on many of the buildings. He told the council that it just comes down to the question, "Do you want to do roofs?"

David Wilmert commented that he believed it would be hard to get new investors in the area if the roof was in need of repair but that was not allowed in the TIF program. He indicated it could be a hindrance to getting investors in the downtown area.

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Melody Anderson offered a suggestion that perhaps a roof could be included if a fašade improvement is also involved. She said the first priority could be the fašade, but if the roof needed to be repaired at the same time, then that could be included as well.

Anderson said she would be more in favor of building some flexibility into the policy over just saying "absolutely not" to roofs.

Snyder also commented that there was some flexibility for developers, and some of the standard policies could be set aside as needed.

Jonie Tibbs said she felt there will need to be a lot of case-by-case decisions, especially as the TIF is getting started. She said that with the program being new for the city, the council would be learning along the way.

McLaughlin said she would take what the council had to say and incorporate it into the policy.

The second portion of the policy that was left undecided was whether or not a loan program would be incorporated into the TIF, or if money would be distributed through grants.

McLaughlin said that much of the time, businesses in a TIF are not looking for a loan they have to pay back; they are looking for a grant.

She said in her research she saw only one or two communities that have a loan program; the rest use grants.

Anderson asked if the loan option could be left out now but added later if the council felt there was a need for it, and McLaughlin said it could.

McLaughlin also asked the council if they were ready to approve the TIF policy document. She said the final step then would be to finish up the work on a TIF application. She said the application would be drafted according to the policies the council adopts.

At Anderson's urging it was agreed that the policy document, with the changes outlined during the workshop discussions, will go on next week's voting agenda, bringing the city one step closer to implementing the TIF program.

It was also noted by McLaughlin early in the discussion that the policies have been written to give the council an "out" on any project. She said a review committee will take the applications, but the final say on whether or not to fund a project will come from the council, not the committee.

Snyder also told the council that he knows of at least one project that is ready and waiting for the TIF money to become available, but he offered no other details on that subject.

[By NILA SMITH]

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