A proposed state law that would exempt some township fire and emergency-medical districts from having property-tax revenue redirected as part of tax-increment-financing agreements has a final hurdle to clear before a vote in the Ohio House of Representatives, but how the vote might go remains unclear.
Central Ohio city officials and township leaders consistently have expressed opposing opinions on House Bill 69. Proponents of TIFs, like many local city officials, have said the bill is a step closer to making TIFs ineffective, whereas agencies from which TIFs usually divert property taxes, such as township fire departments, have said the bill would restore fairness to a process over which they have no control.
However, many of the legislators who are to determine its fate are holding their cards close to the vest.
“It will be a difficult bill,” said state Rep. Laura Lanese (R-Grove City), who represents the 23rd District, which includes Grove City and Jackson Township.
Rep. Bob Cupp (R-Lima) is the sponsor of HB 69. He previously told ThisWeek he sponsored the bill in reaction to townships whose officials had expressed concern about the loss of property-tax revenue through TIFs while being tasked with providing the same – or even additional – EMS and fire support.
Former Rep. Cheryl Grossman – also a former mayor of Grove City – said last year she asked Cupp for the legislation in response to the concern of townships’ loss of revenue through TIF agreements.
“There aren’t as many TIFs (in my district) so the effect is not as extensive here. ... But I’m waiting for feedback (from Grove City and Jackson Township officials),” said Lanese, who succeeded the term-limited Grossman.
Lanese did not indicate whether she supports or opposes the measure.
Rep. Jim Hughes (R-Columbus), who represents the 24th District, which includes Hilliard and large swaths of western Franklin County, said he recused himself from any consideration of HB 69 on the advice of the deputy attorney for the state’s legislative inspector general.
Hughes is a partner in the Isaac Wiles Burkholder & Teetor law firm that represented Ohio townships in connection with HB 69.
“I’ve been advised I cannot discuss (or) even vote (on HB 69),” he said.
Rep. Mike Duffey (R-Worthington), who represents the 21st District that includes most of Dublin, Worthington and northwest Columbus, said he is likely to support HB 69.
“I’m generally in support of it,” he said. “I think any entity, such as a school district or any other that will be affected by a TIF, should have a say in the matter.”
Rep. Anne Gonzales (R-Westerville), who represents the 19th District, which includes Gahanna, New Albany and Westerville, did not return calls seeking comment.
Sen. Stephanie Kunze (R-Hilliard), a former House member and former Hilliard councilwoman, said she has kept tabs on HB 69 as it winds toward the Senate but is not ready to take a position.
“I have it on my radar and will be reviewing the testimony that was presented in the House as it makes its way through the process,” Kunze said.
The bill’s status
Earlier this month, the House’s State and Local Government Committee voted to advance the bill, according to an aide for Rep. Marlene Anielski (R-Walton Hills), the committee’s chairwoman.
HB 69 now is with the House’s Rules and References Committee, whose members determine when a bill will be considered for a vote by the entire House, said Brad Miller, a spokesman for Speaker Cliff Rosenberger (R-Clarksville), chairman of the committee.
Miller said HB 69 has no established timeline and legislation typically is discussed in a caucus before advancing to the House for a vote.
Often, when legislation is voted out of the Rules and Reference Committee, a vote is held within 24 hours, Miller said.
The bill then would move to the Ohio Senate for consideration.
House members recently finished consideration of Ohio’s operating budget – which is under consideration by the Senate – allowing them to consider other pending legislation, he said.
The operating budget must be approved by June 30, after which the House and Senate usually begin a summer recess that extends through Labor Day, Miller said.
The bill’s details
HB 69 received one amendment before it was moved out the State and Local Government Committee.
In response to concerns that language in the bill possibly could be interpreted to allow it to apply retroactively to existing TIFs, it was tweaked to satisfy legislators that it applied only to future TIF districts as municipalities establish them.
A TIF is an economic-development mechanism available to local governments to finance public-infrastructure improvements and, in certain circumstances, residential rehabilitation, according to the Ohio Development Services Agency.
A TIF locks in the taxable worth of real property at the value it holds at the time the authorizing legislation is approved, diverting the incremental revenue from traditional property-tax-collecting entities to designated uses, such as funding the necessary improvements or infrastructure to support a new development.
When applied, the property-tax revenue from the incremental increase in value is redirected for a specified length of time to finance infrastructure improvements associated with the project.
Affected entities include those that rely on real-property-tax revenue to operate, according to Tracy Bradford, Hilliard’s law director.
In Franklin County, these include fire departments, school districts, the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, the Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Board of Franklin County, Franklin County Children Services and other social-service agencies, she said.
However, any agreement in excess of either 10 years or 75 percent requires a municipality to obtain an agreement from the affected school district, Bradford said.
Under HB 69, a municipality also would be able to negotiate with a township concerning reimbursement, she said.
In addition, HB 69 would not apply to TIFs on single parcels, but only to TIF districts intended for larger tracts to encourage development, Bradford said.
HB 69 also would apply only to township fire departments that provide fire-suppression services to a municipality.
Notable examples in central Ohio include Mifflin Township for Gahanna, Norwich Township for Hilliard, Plain Township for New Albany, Truro Township for Reynoldsburg and Washington Township for Dublin.
City fire departments, such as those in Upper Arlington and Whitehall, would not be subject to the bill.