After a full meeting dedicated to the topic of tax-increment financing agreements, the Westerville City Council has a new set of guidelines, but with the same disagreements among council members.
A TIF is an economic-development mechanism available to local governments to finance public-infrastructure improvements. It locks in the taxable worth of real property at the time of the TIF's creation, diverting resulting incremental revenue to designated uses, such as funding infrastructure to support the new development, for a proscribed length of time.
The agreements had become common in Westerville, given the city's variety of development projects, and were largely accepted by council with little discussion. But Councilman Tim Davey's firm stance against the practice has created more debate on the issue since his election in 2015.
Council set a specific meeting on the topic for a special session on March 4, in which they discussed Davey's concerns as well as questions other council members had.
Questions included whether TIFs were appropriate for parks and recreation projects or for multi-family housing projects, and whether council should set timeframes for TIFs or give them "sunset" provisions to expire when work was complete.
For nearly every topic, the majority of members decided council should proceed on a "case-by-case basis."
Council Chairman Craig Treneff said "there's no hard-and-fast rule," but appreciated the progress.
"We had not really had those (conversations)," he said. "The broader point of whether we should use TIFs on case-by-case basis is pretty well established, but this was a necessary starting point."
But for Davey, the council members were simply having "pretty much the same conversation."
His stance has been that TIFs essentially increase taxes on residents, despite the fact that nearly all Westerville agreements make the Westerville City School District whole, providing their portion of taxes.
When he entered office, Davey said he would try to make fellow council members understand, but now he no longer believes he can change their minds.
"I think council understands, now, the consequences of what they're doing and they're fine with that," he said. "They understand that they are raising taxes, essentially, and they feel the state law allows them to do that and they're fine doing that. I think that's a bad way to go, long-term."
City staff members, including City Manager David Collinsworth, have often defended their TIF strategy, noting the agreements help attract business and allow for infrastructure to be completed more efficiently.
Davey still said he believes TIFs are being "abused" throughout Ohio, and he can only hope that newly elected council members in the future may agree with him more.
"I think the other six (council members) are much more open to ideas about how we can best serve (Westerville) residents, as opposed to how we serve an ideological point of view," Treneff said. "He (Davey) hasn't convinced the majority (of council), and I don't think the majority has convinced him. We just have an agreement."
"If I see debt and other things getting out of hand, I may have to take a different tack," Davey said. "Maybe some new blood may be more receptive."