City moves forward with plan to finance downtown improvements

By PATTI SELLS | News-Telegram Feature Writer 

Oct 9, 2007 - Hopkins County Commissioners Court Monday approved a request from Sulphur Springs City Manager Marc Maxwell to waive a 60-day notification period regarding a resolution to establish a tax increment financing (TIF) reinvestment zone.

�The plan would allow government entities to capture the tax revenue expected from the downtown area and historical district and reinvest it in that same zone,� explained Maxwell. �If we are serious about redoing the downtown area, we need a source of income to get it done. This is a way to do that.�

According to Maxwell, while TIF sounds like a tax increase, it is not. Tax Increment Financing zones only affect how the money from property taxes in a designated area — in this case, dowtown — is distributed.

If the TIF zone is created, participating governmental entities such as the city and the county would still receive the property taxes on the current value of the properties in the zone.

But, as the area undergoes development and property values improve, the taxes on the rising property worth would be captured and dedicated to new improvements downtown, according to Maxwell.

The money would be used for downtown revitalization projects that include reconstructing streets and sidewalks, replacing deficient sewer and water mains, and placing electrical service underground. Plans also include a park with an interactive fountain, stage and memorials in the courthouse square, establish a municipal program for festivals, concerts and other events, and create a grant program to help business owners reconstruct the facades of their buildings. Extensive landscaping, benches, period lighting and many other improvements are also expected.

The square and adjoining streets would be the first focus of the improvements, and projected costs total just over $3.3 million, and a TIF plan is considered the best financing instrument.

�Without that investment, it is unlikely that any development in the proposed zone would happen, [nor would] the anticipated economic benefits derived from increased property tax values in the zone which will occur as a result of this redevelopment process,� city staff wrote in their �Proposed Reinvestment Zone Funding Plan� report.

Over the past 10 years, the downtown area has increased in value about 4.3 percent per year, compared to citywide taxable values rising 5.5 percent annually. And a large percentage of the increased values downtown can be attributed to City National Bank and Alliance Bank, which were not as impacted by the economic “blight” associated with other areas in the zone, staffers wrote in their report.

They also pointed to the city of Winnsboro, which followed a similar development plan and experienced an 11.5 percent growth rate in the first five years. Meanwhile, sales tax rebates in that city grew 27 percent from 2005 to 2006, and are on pace to increase another 10.49 percent this year.

Maxwell will be making similar presentations to the Hopkins County Memorial Hospital board of directors and Sulphur Springs Independent School District board of trustees in the future.

In keeping with legislative requirements for the project, Maxwell also asked that someone from the Commissioners Court be appointed to work with him throughout the duration of the downtown revitalization.

�The Legislature just wants to know that we are communicating and working together on this,� he explained.

Hopkins County Judge Cletis Millsap volunteered for the role, saying he has witnessed the suffering and decline of the downtown area since the 1950s and looks forward to seeing this project through.

Both items passed unanimously.

In other business, Commissiners Court members tabled an item that involves a cooperative working agreement between the city of Sulphur Springs and Hopkins County Special Crimes Unit.

�It is really just a routine piece of paper that confirms we are still working with them,� explained Maxwell.

However, commissioners voted to table the item until they could meet with Sulphur Springs Police Chief Jim Bayuk to discuss some concerns.

The Court met with Ray Van of Ray Van & Associates to discuss a Safe Route To School grant in the amount of $10,000 given through the Texas Department of Transportation for Saltillo and Cumby.

The grant is to study viable plans that would improve the safety of children, according to Van, who said additional funding would be needed to actually implement the work which could include new or improved sidewalks and streets.

The Court also approved minor revisions to personnel policy, the Hopkins County Regional Civic Center minutes from Aug. 9, and the services of Rutledge Crain & Company, PC for outside auditing of Hopkins County.

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