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Tiff over TIF settled in Newport

Washington County

A redevelopment plan in Newport is moving ahead after changes to a joint powers agreement between that city and the Washington County Community Development Agency.

At its meeting Nov. 8, the Washington County Board of Commissioners adopted a resolution for an amended redevelopment plan for Red Rock Crossing in northern Newport.

The resolution OK'd the creation of a 19-acre tax increment financing (TIF) district located between Interstate 494 and 21st Street, and Maxwell Avenue and Highway 61. Taxes collected in that district will be used to redevelop portions of the city between the Mississippi River and Highway 61, north of 15th Street.

Terms of the joint powers agreement were changed after Newport City Council balked at approving the previous draft, which had been in place since 2012. At an Oct. 20 meeting, the council voted to table a motion to approve the agreement. Some council members argued that the city needed more say in choosing end users for the site.

The county board tabled the resolution at its Nov. 1 meeting while Newport City Council made up its mind.

The agreement was amended to give Newport the right to deny, approve or give comment on developer selection. It also established mandatory annual meetings between the CDA and the city to discuss progress on the project and for the CDA to provide quarterly expense reports that specified sources and uses of the TIF funds.

On Nov. 8, the board heard a presentation from Melissa Taphorn, Deputy Executive Director of the Housing and Redevelopment Authority.

"We're looking at an area that has generally declined in property value," she said. "When we created a TIF district we freeze the value. When we develop we capture tax value."

The county would pay up-front costs, including acquisition, relocation, demolition, and remediation for the land. The improvements are expected to increase the property values of the land from $4.5 million to $56 million. The county has spent $640,000 so far for demolition and to purchase properties, an amount the CDA will be refunded when TIF funds start coming in.

The TIF District for Red Rock Crossing will be in effect for 25 years, with the first TIF property tax revenues to be delivered in 2020. The CDA is expecting to gather $26 million in TIF funds.

"But for CDA's public intervention in this area, redevelopment would not occur," Taphorn said. "The increase ... would not occur but for this tax increment financing."

The board conducted a public hearing prior to the vote. Newport council members Bill Sumner and Dan Lund spoke.

Lund, the mayor-elect of Newport, has been a vocal opponent of the resolution.

"The TIF plans were not shared with Newport until I specifically asked for them, which is very inappropriate," Lund told the county board.

He asked the board to wait until after the Nov. 8 election to give any newly elected members of Newport City Council the opportunity to address the issue.

"I would just ask you to continue it one more week," Lund said. "I don't think it's appropriate to enter into a 25-year marriage. We're talking about a 30-year marriage."

The board closed the public meeting and unanimously passed the resolution. Newly re-elected Commissioner Gary Kriesel of District 3, who had clashed with Lund at the Nov. 1 county board meeting, cautioned patience and cooperation.

"I'm compelled to support the will of the city," Kriesel said. "There's no real fast turnaround time or solutions, but at the end of the day I think it will be justifiable that but for this TIF, the area would be blighted. In essence I support the will of the City of Newport in collaboration with our CDA."

Katie Nelson contributed to this report.

William Loeffler

William Loeffler is a playwright and journalist from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He worked 15 years writing features for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He has also written travel stories based on his trips to all seven continents. He and his wife, Michelle, ran the Boston Marathon in 2009. 

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