Tax Incentive Council Looks at TIF Impact on Schools

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Officials from Mahoning County, Jackson Township and the Jackson-Milton Local School District are expected to address how tax increment financing is implemented, particularly how school districts might realize more revenue when they are used.

Discussion of tax increment financing deals – referred to as TIFs and used to assist several local projects consumed a good portion of Tuesday’s annual meeting of the Mahoning County Tax Incentive Review Council.

Mahoning County has three TIF districts: one in Jackson Township encompassing the Truck World plaza (pictured above), the new Ohio Utilities Protection Services headquarters and FedEx Ground’s expansion; one centered on Penn National Gaming’s Hollywood Gaming racino in Austintown and one at The Inn at Poland Way in Poland.

Following updates on companies that benefited from tax abatements awarded under the county enterprise zone program and on the three TIF districts, the committee voted to continue its agreements under both programs for another year.

The TIF discussion was driven primarily by the concerns raised by representatives of the Jackson-Milton Local School District in Jackson Township.

The tools have grown in popularity as communities have moved away from tax abatements and Community Reinvestment Areas, programs that reduce the amount of property taxes a company would pay for improvements to their land.

Unlike a tax abatement, a company in a TIF agreement pays property taxes for those improvements, but half of that new tax revenue for the term of the agreement, typically 10 years, is allocated for infrastructure projects that would impact that project, such as roads and sewers.

A scoring system for TIFs recently approved by Mahoning County commissioners evaluates those requests based on criteria including job creation, investment, type of company and needed infrastructure, said Sarah Lown, Mahoning County incentives manager and public finance manager for the Western Reserve Port Authority.

Kirk Baker, Jackson-Milton superintendent, reminded the committee that when they approve a TIF agreement, they are taking future money away from school districts, which share in property taxes. He cast the sole dissenting vote on the motion to continue the Jackson Township TIF district.

Jackson Township Trustee Tom Frost, who supported creation of the TIF, said the district would still realize more additional revenue than under the enterprise zone program, which the township no longer uses. Under that program, taxes on new investment were abated by 60%.

“[Schools] are not losing money. They’re just not gaining as much money,” Lown said.

Austintown Township Trustee Ken Carano pointed out that the schools benefit from the TIF-funded improvements by having better township roads.

Over three years of collections, the Penn National TIF generated $2.93 million that has been used for resurfacing, sewer, signalization and mill-and-fill projects in the township, Lown said.

Despite his support for the TIF program, Frost said there has to be a “happy medium” that can satisfy both entities. He suggested doing TIF agreements at 25% rather than 50% to reduce the amount taken from school. Another option raised during the meeting was designating a portion of the TIF money for the school district.

“We have to figure out a way to help both because we’re the same citizens that own the schools that own the roads,” the trustee said. “We want our schools to do a terrific job. They can’t do it without money.”

Officials suggested a meeting among county commissioners, Jackson trustees and the district to address the concerns.

A meeting would benefit all sides, Baker agreed. “We have to work together,” he said.

Commissioners Carol Rimedio-Righetti and Anthony Traficanti, who did not attend the tax incentive review council meeting, said afterward they planned to meet with the township and school officials to discuss the TIF program.

Of the five enterprise zone agreements approved to continue during the meeting, three – with FedEx Ground, InfoCision and RSL Industries/McHenry – are nearing their conclusion.

“They’ve all performed very well. They’ve been job creators,” Lown said.

Agreements approved last year for Nordson Xaloy and Trumbull Manufacturing have not been implemented because of delays with those projects, she noted.

Pictured: The Truck World truck stop in Jackson Township is part of the tax increment financing district, one of three in Mahoning County.

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