Mayoral candidates tackle TIF funding at forum

Editor’s note: This is the second part of a series that will take a look at how candidates for Seymour mayor plan to address issues if elected.

Tax increment financing, or TIF, is not an easy topic to understand, but those running for mayor of Seymour this year are studying up on how it impacts the city.

During Saturday’s mayoral candidate forum at Celebrations, seven candidates addressed the issue of the city’s two TIF districts, proposed by Mayor Craig Luedeman in 2008 and created by city council. Those districts encompass the Eastside Industrial Park and Cummins and Freeman Field Industrial Park.

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Candidates attending the forum were Democrats Mike Kelly and Rexanne Ude and Republicans Bridey Jacobi, Tom Joray, Matt Nicholson, Nathan Otte and Matt Rowe. Democratic candidate Tyler Henkle did not attend.

In a TIF district, tax money is captured from new industrial development or increased property values in the TIF district and is set aside to fund infrastructure, downtown redevelopment or incentives to promote economic development in a community rather than being distributed to other taxing units.

A small portion — 15 percent — of TIF revenue can be invested in educational projects.

In House Bill 1596, state legislators are now looking to limit restrictions on TIF revenue so only those educational programs and projects that directly benefit the TIF area or result in the creation or retention of jobs can receive funding.

Because of the TIF districts that are in place, Joray, 59, a former Jackson County commissioner, said Seymour Community School Corp. lost $44,000 annually in funding over a 10-year-period for a total of $440,000.

“I’m not in favor of using TIF at all in Seymour,” he said.

TIF also should not be used to finance private development projects like it did the Burkart Crossing Apartments in 2013, he added.

“The city was basically picking winners and losers,” he said. “There were a lot of local developers that have never had that kind of help from the city of Seymour, and they weren’t very happy.”

Local government should leave those kinds of projects to the private sector, Joray said.

“The taxpayer should not have to finance these projects,” he said.

Otte, 35, a local optometrist, said TIF is an important tool for the city to fund infrastructure and promote new economic development that otherwise wouldn’t have a way to be funded.

But he said the city needs to consider what is the most impactful way to make a difference within the community with those funds.

“Currently, we can spend 15 percent of TIF dollars toward education, which in the past has been used toward the learning center,”Otte said. “Strengthening the relationship between the city and the school system is a top priority for me.”

He said TIF funds could be used to invest in programs like Seymour High School’s Owl Manufacturing and the Jobs for America’s Graduates program to improve youth development and increase skill sets students need to become productive members of society.

There is a lot of misunderstanding when it comes to TIF, said Jacobi, 43, a former Jackson County Council member.

She supports the use of TIF revenue as a way to use local money to reinvest in redevelopment without raising property tax rates across the board.

“As the money is reinvested into this district and it is then developed, the assessed value will work for that area,” she said.

When he first heard of TIF, Kelly said he didn’t know what it was, but he has since learned that it helped fund the development of Crossroads Community Park in downtown Seymour and is paying for construction of the planned work release center.

Kelly, 61, a cell leader at a manufacturer in Columbus, said he thinks it’s a great idea to use TIF funding for education.

“That way, kids can go to school and maybe they can get a program going where they can learn robotics, coding, programming or go in on an apprenticeship with local businesses,” he said. “So when they graduate, they will have a skilled job, a high-paying job and will help to pull new businesses in that are looking for skilled laborers because the day of the manual laborer is just about extinct.”

Indiana House Bill 1596 has consequences regarding the use of TIF dollars, said Ude, 62, the director of development for Schneck Medical Center and executive director of the Schneck Foundation.

Among the bill’s new provisions are requirements to make certain findings to expend TIF dollars outside of the TIF allocation area and limitations on how municipalities can aid school districts.

“This is far beyond the scope of what was originally intended,” she said.

Ude said the bottom line is no one knows what the final bill will be, but she supports ways to utilize TIF dollars to benefit the community.

She is in favor of using TIF to ensure Seymour’s success, but she does not think House Bill 1596 will support those efforts, she said.

As one of eight certified municipal officials in the state, Nicholson, 41, a small business owner, nonprofit director and current city councilman, said he encouraged state legislators to vote against House Bill 1596.

The redevelopment commission has invested just under $584,000 in education through the Jackson County Education Coalition, he said.

Nicholson said the TIF districts allow more money to be kept and spent locally.

“Every dollar that we earn on increased value, we keep 82 cents of it locally,” he said. “Without those TIF districts, we would have kept about 18 cents of those tax dollars.”

That would have made it worse for local education initiatives, he said.

“If we had left those TIF districts alone, the school system would have received around $240,000, so they got $340,000 more because of the TIF districts,” he said.

Rowe, 43, owner of a commercial insurance business, said it’s not smart for the city to plan around what the state will or won’t do regarding TIF funding.

“It’s not self-sustaining,” he said.

The state controls how education is funded by taking local tax dollars and putting it into one large pot and then handing back a percent of that capital around the entire state, he said.

“The control of education is not a local issue. Neither is what the state chooses to do with the TIF districts,” he said. “It’s not something that the mayor can do anything about.”

Rowe said the city is very fortunate to have the largest high school gym in the world, a four-star private high school, Advanced Placement and dual credit paths available to children as young as middle school and a community learning center that attracts people from other counties.

“As mayor, I would like to see our children’s schools continue to reach new levels of excellence to benefit schools, children, our tax base by drawing in new families who desire to participate in our excellent schools,” he said.

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Seymour mayoral candidates for the May 7 primary election

Democrats: Tyler Henkle, Mike Kelly and Rexanne Ude

Republicans: Bridey Jacobi, Tom Joray, Matt Nicholson, Nathan Otte and Matt Rowe