County OKS TIF plan for downtown improvements

By BRUCE ALSOBROOK, News-Telegram Managing Editor

June 26, 2008 - One of the last hurdles toward a creative method to finance the revitalization of downtown Sulphur Springs has been cleared.

Hopkins County's elected officials have agreed to a Tax Increment Financing plan that will allow tax money generated from increases in property values in the downtown area to be reinvested in the business district.

"I have signed the TIF Agreement as authorized by Commissioners Court and sent it to [Sulphur Springs] City Council for approval at their next regular meeting on July 1st," Hopkins County Judge Cletis Millsap wrote in message to Sulphur Springs City Manager Marc Maxwell Wednesday.

TIF plans are a way to generate reinvestment money without lowering the tax dollars that governments depend on to finance the operation of public business. In a sense, it's a form of delayed gratification for governments with the promise of a big payoff in the long-run.

Under the system, also called Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone, the property values that the city and county receive taxes on from downtown properties will essentially remain frozen at last year's levels.

That does not mean the taxes do not go up, or that the property owners get a tax break. Instead, any amount of tax that is paid on the increased property values go into a special fund that is then used to help finance more improvements downtown.

The agreement signed by county officials will have to be approved by Sulphur Springs City Council members at their July 1 meeting.

County officials asked that some of the money from the TIF plan be used to help pay for a proposed parking lot that would be built south of the county jail and adjacent to Jefferson Street. The parking lot is being planned to serve a future courts building at the old Fidelity Express building, which was purchased by the county last year.

City Manager Marc Maxwell said money from the TIF plan will be used on the parking lot construction. However, it could be used for items such as lighting fixtures and other details to make the parking lot fit with the overall design for downtown.

A special board will be created in the future to decide how the money from the TIF plan will be allocated, but by law can only be devoted to making improvements to the area covered by the reinvestment zone.

Maxwell said city officials will also be asking the Hopkins County Memorial Hospital District board of directors to take part in the TIF plan. They are not expected to request the Sulphur Springs Independent School District take part..

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