House Bill 69, 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, is under consideration in the Senate.

Multiple hearings have been held, and more testimony is expected next week, according to Clark Siddle, a spokesman for Sen. John Eklund (R-Munson Township). HB 69 is in the Senate’s ways and means committee, for which Eklund serves as chairman.

Eklund has not indicated whether the bill will be scheduled for a vote, Siddle said, because he wants to ensure that committee members’ questions and concerns are addressed before doing so.

Thomas Hart of the Building Industry Association of Central Ohio provided opposing testimony to HB 69 on Oct. 4, Siddle said.

Supporting testimony was received Sept. 20 and 27 and included Norwich Township Trustee Larry Earman, Washington Township Trustee Denise Franz-King, Violet Township fire Chief Michael Little, Plain Township Administrator Ben Collins, Jackson Township fire Chief Randy Little and Heidi Fought of the Ohio Township Association, Siddle said.

Central Ohio city officials and township leaders consistently have expressed opposing opinions on HB 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.

House members approved HB 69 on June 21, with 92 members voting in favor of it and seven either absent or abstaining, Siddle said.

Rep. Bob Cupp (R-Lima) sponsored HB 69 and previously told ThisWeek he did so 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 services.

HB 69 would apply only to township fire departments that provide 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 Grandview Heights, Upper Arlington and Whitehall, would not be subject to it.

Hart said HB 69 “erodes” an important economic-development tool.

TIFs are necessary, Hart said, to help make mixed-use residential developments financially viable for developers and to provide revenue for infrastructure, such as roads and sewer plants.

Moreover, the revenue that is diverted is from tax values of the improved property, not current tax values, something that is often misunderstood, he said.

“TIFs are an important tool that often makes a project a go, (and HB 69) erodes an optional mechanism that serves a good purpose,” Hart said.

Franz-King, who also provided supporting testimony in the Ohio House earlier this year, said that if Dublin – the city located in the township – intends to approve TIFs, it should do so “using its own healthy revenue.”

In 2016, $2.4 million, which represents 12 percent of revenue from Washington Township’s fire-levy collections, was diverted to TIFs in Dublin, Franz-King said.

“Just because it is legal to do does not make it right,” she said.

“It’s all about fairness,” Earman said. “Other entities (such as the Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Board of Franklin County) are exempt but fire districts are not. This legislation would take care of that.”

Sen. Stephanie Kunze (R-Hilliard), who is not a member of the ways and means committee but represents much of western Franklin County, said she is “reviewing all the testimony that has been presented so far.”

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