Here’s a scenario to explain tax increment financing: A sunny patio on a hot summer day.
A big, sturdy shade tree would be nice, but first it must be planted. That will take some effort – digging the hole, buying the sapling, planting it, watering it and so forth.
The reward of the labor won’t come for years, but when it does, the cool shade and aesthetic beauty will have been worth the sacrifice.
The same goes for tax increment financing proposals, which allow new development projects to avoid increases in property taxes for a set number of years. TIFs make projects more affordable for a developer, allowing them to get their project built and established before the higher tax structure kicks in. They still pay property taxes on the land’s previously appraised value, but they won’t pay on the new value for a predetermined number of years.
With TIFs, the sacrifice made in the initial years by the taxing entities – the school district, the city and the county – will be paid off later when the higher taxes kick in and remain in the decades that follow. Perhaps new jobs and business come with the projects, too.
This all is relevant as the Grand Forks School Board considers a series of TIF development projects that are hoping to move forward.
They include: Epic Companies’ $48.9 million plan to turn the now-defunct Townhouse Hotel into apartments, retail space, and a plaza; Burian & Associates’ $25 million plan to replace the university’s Memorial Stadium with office space and apartments; a consortium of developers’ $7 million plan to renovate St. John’s Block; and Northridge Construction’s $27.3 million plan to turn the Lyons Auto space, across from City Hall, into offices, retail and apartments.
A contingent of city leaders this week outlined the development projects and their hoped-for TIFs to the Grand Forks School Board. The city, the School Board and the County Commission all must approve the TIFs before the projects can move forward.
We urge all boards to give their blessing.
Think for a moment about Grand Forks’ current property tax base. What is becoming of previously lucrative locations like Kmart? Or the Columbia Mall? The value of those locations is decaying, and the result will be fewer dollars coming to taxing entities.
TIFs can be controversial. Some believe TIFs are an unnecessary tax break, since many projects seeking TIFs would be built anyway, and thus would start paying higher taxes immediately. That would mean more dollars sooner for the city, district and county. To ease that concern, third-party analysis is added to the process to help determine if the TIF truly is needed.
Perhaps developers are getting used to asking for the tax break because councils, boards and commissions usually don’t say no. It becomes – as Henry Kissinger in 1969 described troop involvement in Vietnam – like salted peanuts. “The more you eat, the more you want. And there will be no end to it.”
But with TIFs, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, since they mean more development, a more modern community and, later, a more stable and lucrative tax base.