Remarks from the TIF Public Hearing Last Night

The Chronicle covered the public hearing on the proposed Sycamore Road and South Fourth Street TIF districts last night. The article seems a bit short but I’m gratified to have been quoted.

Three of us spoke at the hearing: Kerry Mellott, Mac McIntyre and me. If you did not observe Mac’s and Kerry’s contributions, let me assure you they are worth an ear when the city makes the video available.

Today I offer my prepared remarks* because they represent a somewhat organized body of objections that I haven’t yet shared here.

Jump to look.

As an aside, in hopes of preventing confusion, let me explain there was only one public hearing for both proposals, as if they are conjoined and one cannot survive without the other.

I don’t oppose TIFs, but I oppose these TIFs. Here are six reasons why.

Reason One: We have higher priorities. Our financial consultants, who submitted an updated report and recommendations in June, say we must get our financial house in order. On June 11 in this very room, twice and in so many words, the consultants said that if DeKalb does not change its ways, it will be back in the same sort of financial crisis as it was during the Great Recession and that this would occur within five years. The EPI report is a blue print for the operational improvements we need. The proposed TIFs are not part of that blueprint and would be distractions from the work of figuring out how to provide basic services a few years from now. The TIFs would also mean more debt at a time when almost all of our revenues are flat and expected to remain flat for the foreseeable future.

Reason Two: Regarding the South Fourth proposal exclusively, I note that the school district is not supporting this plan because it would affect them adversely. I likewise cannot support any plan that would take dollars away from the schools, both for their sake and for our sake since 64% of our property tax dollars already go to them.

Reason Three: Also regarding South Fourth exclusively, much of the plan is a vague intention to buy up properties, demolish old buildings and market them as commercial properties. This is the same model as has been used to no avail in Central Area TIF. In fact, since 1999 the amount of public investment in the downtown has been $12.5 million compared to private investment of $7100 spent on 14 downtown projects. That’s right, only $7100 has been spent by private property owners on downtown TIF projects. TIF is supposed to generate private investment and expand the tax base and by that standard of measure has been a colossal failure. Perhaps it has something to do with what our financial consultants said — bringing this back around to EPI — about their having collected stories from business owners describing DeKalb as the most business-unfriendly community they’ve ever encountered. Regardless: at this point the South Fourth plan would only be repeating past mistakes.

Reasons 4, 5, and 6 have to do with things we should do before opening new TIFs: get the new city manager in here to see what he or she thinks; strengthen TIF accountability; and generate plans that the city feels confident enough to finance with revenue bonds instead of general obligation bonds.

Further opportunity for public comment will present itself once the ordinances are prepared and discussed by the council.

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*Please note the prepared remarks do not constitute a transcript of the actual remarks, though I don’t believe the two differ substantially. Having directly followed the TIF consultant’s presentation, I did ask questions about the TIF Joint Review Board(s) but those naturally lie outside the prepared remarks.