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Saturday, May 30, 2020

Neighborhood Revitalization Program Discussed

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Courtesy of the Beloit Call

At the heart of the discussion during the opening of Monday’s County Commissioners meeting was the tax rebate program known as the Neighborhood Revitalization Grant program. This program came into existence in 2008. As the name suggests the original focus of the program was to offer tax rebates to encourage property owners to spend money fixing up property they own, and by doing so, increasing the worth of the property and the value of the neighborhood.
Quoting from State Statute 12-17, 115

(c) “Neighborhood revitalization area” means:

(1) An area in which there is a predominance of buildings or improvements which by reason of dilapidation, deterioration, obsolescence, inadequate provision for ventilation, light, air, sanitation, or open spaces, high density of population and overcrowding, the existence of conditions which endanger life or property by fire and other causes or a combination of such factors, is conducive to ill health, transmission of disease, infant mortality, juvenile delinquency or crime and which is detrimental to the public health, safety or welfare.

It is clear that the original intent of the program was to encourage revitalizing blighted areas and by doing so, improve the neighborhood and the city.

Since the time of the inception of the program, Mitchell County and several other counties have modified the program to include the building of new residential and new business properties.

The question of the discussion was “If Citizen A builds a new residential dwelling for $200,000, $300,000, or $400,000 and receives a decreasing tax rebate over 10 years, who pays for this tax abatement?”

It is certainly true that by getting a break on their taxes, people might build a new home in Mitchell County who might not otherwise do so. This is a long range investment in a home that will be taxable for many years after the 10 rebate program ends.

Questions brought fourth were that nobody knows for sure how many people build a home because of the tax rebate? Assumptions can be made about to what extent the rebate program stimulates the building of new homes and how many would be built anyway.

According to statistics provided by Mitchell Country Treasurer Yvonne Melton, since the program was initiated in 2008, $7,041,552.41 in tax money has been rebated to those who applied for and qualified for the program.

This is where the unknown question arose again in that if a seven million dollar tax rebate was a good investment and will lead to financial reinvestment in the future? And how much? If a high percentage of the rebated tax money led to business expansion, hiring of new workers and expanded markets, that is a good investment. Since the beginning of the program in 2008, 256 individuals have participated in the program.

Commissioner Tom Claussen said, “When we decided to use bonds to finance the eight million dollar hospital expansion, we put the issue to a vote of the people of the county. That was a lot of money to obligate our citizen to and we wanted their support. Maybe this seven million dollar program should get the same endorsement. After all, it is the taxpaying citizen who pays the bills.”

Commissioner Mike Cooper said, “In the last several years I have built 20 houses. As a building contractor, Cooper said not one of them would have been built, except for the help received through the Neighborhood Revitalization Grant.

Claussen once again pushed to put the Neighborhood Revitalization Grant to a vote of the taxpayers. Cooper replied, “I do not think we can educate the public enough so they understand how the program works. We would have to teach public classes to educate people before they voted.”

Commissioner Jim Marshall added, “I agree with Mike. I am not in favor of having the public vote on this.” Marshall went on to call for the question of whether or not to have public vote. Claussen voted for a public vote. Marshall and Cooper voted against a public vote. With this vote the program will be renewed with the same format as in the past.

– In other actions the commissioners wanted to consider options for the purchase of a new mower tractor for $85,000 to replace the one that was submerged in water in one of our several floods this past summer. The county will receive an insurance settlement of $18,000.

– Stuart Porter, County Engineer, reported that there is a $50 million dollar pot of money from K-DOT that might be available to finish replacing the posts and guardrails on the Cawker City causeway road. The commissioners authorized him to submit an application.

– The river bank on the asphalt road south of Asherville continued to deteriorate at an alarming rate. Dale Housh has arranged for a well-respected river bank engineer to come to Mitchell County this Wednesday to pass along possible avenues of action.

– Becky Shook, Mitchell County Communications director, requested the support of the county, both fiscal and mental, to undertake a course of study that will result in her achieving certification in the nationally accredited Civil Public Safety program. She will do on-line study for several months and then report to the national headquarters for a final exam period of two weeks. The commissioners voted to pay the $5,793 tuition fee and allow her time off for the on-site final exam.

Joining the commissioners in Monday’s meeting were County Treasurer Yvonne Melton, County Appraiser Melinda Latham, and Mitchell County Economic Development Director Heather Hartman.

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