Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge and Economic Development Board chairwoman Lottie Ryans both unsuccessfully voted against a board of directors measure to move forward in presenting the expansion of the special taxing district in upcoming meetings of the county and city commissions.
If they TIF district were to be expanded, involved municipalities would be able to raise funds for the project through selling bonds on the property values, expected to increase with the help of the development. That didn’t sit so well with Eldridge, who felt the process was moving too quickly.
“Right now, we have way more questions than we have answers,” Eldridge said. “We’ve got to answer these questions now.”
Eldridge said cautiously approaching the Exit 17 expansion that WCEDC CEO Mitch Miller said could bring in upward of $248 million in sales for $91 million in taxable income, needs to be the strategy.
The deficit and how it will be paid for, Eldridge said, needs to be a bigger concern, especially with taxpayers on the other end of the deal that would total about $17 million. Johnson City manager Pete Peterson disagreed with Eldridge over how sales tax revenue would be dispersed, saying they need to work things out and cooperate so both the city and county don’t miss out on a possible economic opportunity.
“Sales tax is huge,” Peterson told Eldridge. “(The county) is in a better position than the city right now.”
Another question at hand would be the length of the TIF expansion, either 20 or 30 years, he said.
A retail expansion, expected to run about 700,000 square feet of space over 510 acres, would do well, Miller said, in capturing economic leakage of local money going to the economies in Asheville, N.C., and Knoxville. The next step, Miller said, will be to put together an Economic Impact Plan for the retail development. But to move forward, the project would require public funding and support.
“We’re going to need public dollars in the form of a TIF to develop this,” Miller said.
Perhaps a bit aggressive, Eldridge said, were the numbers projecting economic growth in the area to be about 2 percent, when the current rate was less than one-third that figure.
“I’d ask this body not to move forward with something that is very preliminary,” Eldridge said before the vote to move forward with the expansion presentation. Miller said a discussion needs to be had with the county to work out the mayor’s concerns.
The other topic at hand was work with different portions of land in Gray, off Interstate 26, owned by Johnson City and Danny Karst, which could be purchased and pieced together as a 93-acre section that would be used for economic development.
Hoping that Johnson City would make a donation in the way of land, Miller said he was hoping for a deal with Karst to buy just under 40 acres of land, which would include access to the land. This land, however, would not be donated. Miller said he thought $8,000-$9,000 an acre would be fair and that they two entities could come to a deal.
“These are right on par with recent transactions,” Miller said, going on to say the board was in a pretty good spot.
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