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County should support TIF for John Sevier

Johnson City Press • Jan 27, 2019 at 7:00 AM

If Washington County’s economic base is to remain viable, stagnancy resulting from outmoded political competitiveness cannot be part of the equation.

The Johnson City Development Authority has proposed a tax increment financing plan to redevelop the historic John Sevier Center. The project would convert the 95-year-old former hotel into a multipurpose hub with business and residential spaces.

As we stated in September, the JCDA’s $4.1 million offer to buy the building is a key component in the final phase of downtown Johnson City’s revitalization. By relocating the center’s low-income residents to better housing and renovating the building, the project would turn what has been an economic development barrier into a significant asset.

To get there, the JCDA will have to clear a hurdle at the Washington County Commission. On Monday, the Commission will again consider whether to allow the JCDA to use a $4.6 million TIF to buy and redevelop the historic former hotel.

As News Editor Nathan Baker reported in our Jan. 12 edition, JCDA members fear a few county commissioners who are hostile to public financing methods in any form could upend the whole deal. The TIF method allows future increases in property tax collections generated by increasing values within a district targeted for redevelopment to be held in a separate account and earmarked for other development projects. Opposing commissioners have characterized the method as a giveaway of taxpayers’ money.

In this case especially, the opposite is true. The Sevier Center’s conversion would be an investment in a public necessity that will pay dividends for Washington County taxpayers for generations.

As downtown Johnson City revitalizes, so does Washington County’s potential as whole. Rural vs. urban interests should never be a factor in developing the county’s tax base, as Johnson City accounts for the lion’s share of that base.

We all know Northeast Tennessee’s economic status is stagnant in contrast with other parts of the state. Birth rates are dropping. Better-paying jobs and major manufacturing centers are landing in Chattanooga and the greater Nashville areas, where population growth is exponentially higher than here. We have to proceed with strategic, logical steps if we are to have any hope of improving — or even maintaining — our economy.

Hesitancy, politics and misrepresentations only serve to hold us back. The Washington County Commission should approve the TIF for the John Sevier.

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