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Harrison Squared…


Fort Wayne Reader


Downtown’s Harrison Square is plowing ahead - literally. Demolition crews are busy tearing down buildings to make way for the new hotel, condos, retail shops, parking garage and baseball stadium. Fort Wayne City Council gave preliminary approval to an $18-million gap loan to fund part of the project until the state approves bond financing for the development.

Mayor Graham Richard announced another positive sign for the project: demand has outpaced supply in terms of the luxury suites available at Harrison Square. 32 companies have signed up to share the stadium’s 16 suites.

Initially, only a dozen luxury suites were planned but four were added when so many companies expressed interest. In fact, some businesses were asked to scale back from a full season lease and lease for only part of the season so that other companies could participate.

As predicted, Republican mayoral candidate Matt Kelty has gone negative. In his first major news conference following his inditement on campaign finance and perjury charges, Kelty went on the warpath. With polling by both parties showing voter concern over government in general, and taxes in particular, it’s no surprise that Kelty feels emboldened to go into attack mode. What is surprising is the target. His target isn’t his opponent, Democrat Tom Henry, but instead outgoing Mayor Graham Richard. Even more strange is Kelty’s chosen issue.

Despite the fact that Republicans and Democrats alike laud the use of Tax Increment Financing (TIF) to spur economic development, Kelty wants to bring the City’s use of TIF to a screeching halt. In a nutshell, TIF makes it possible for development to pay for itself, thereby easing the burden on traditional property taxes. The General Motors plant and the renovated Southtown Centre are successful examples of TIF dollars in action. TIF is also part of the Harrison Square funding package.

However, Kelty accuses the Richard Administration of turning “a valuable economic tool into the equivalent of a development ‘slush fund,’ with little oversight or accountability for how TIF funds are spent.” Unfortunately for Kelty, not only does his 800+ word news release fail to provide a single example to back up his “slush fund” allegation, he doesn’t even seem to fully understand how TIF works.

Purdue University’s Indiana Local Government Information Website has one of the best explanations about how TIF districts operate:

“TIF is a way that many county and city/town governments help pay for new infrastructure... (A county, city or town) will draw a boundary around an area where it thinks development (changes in land use or new construction) will take place. Taxes on property that is assessed at the time the TIF district is created continue to be distributed to all the overlapping units--including the school corporation, the township, the library district and any other special districts. But taxes on property that is newly built after the TIF district is created are distributed only to the TIFing government. A new factory might require new road construction and a bigger sewage treatment plant, for example. The revenue from the TIF district could be used to pay for this new infrastructure. The intent of TIF, then, is to make development pay for itself.”

Kelty wrongly suggests that the current use of TIF hurts schools, and points to Fort Wayne Community Schools’ $500-building renovation plan - a plan soundly defeated in a referendum. But the Elephant Who Never Forgets conveniently forgets that he refused to take a stand on the issue when it really mattered.

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