WEST MILTON — On Tuesday night, the West Milton Village Council held a public hearing to discuss the tax increment financing (TIF) plan for the residential portion of the Stillwater Crossings development.
Stillwater Crossings would be located on approximately 100 acres at the corner of State Route 571 and Iddings Road. The development would include both commercial and residential sections, including shops and restaurants, a proposed medical center, an assisted living facility, senior cottages and 133 single family homes.
Council discussed the proposed incentive district TIF, and heard from their lawyers and advisors, as well as residents.
According to village legal counsel Caleb Bell, a public finance attorney with Bricker & Eckler, a TIF is legal mechanism used to encourage new development by redirecting property taxes. In this case, new property taxes on the development would be diverted to pay off the cost of the infrastructure. It does not result in any new taxes for current residents.
“With a TIF, everybody pays what they would have paid. The property tax billing process is no different,” Bell said. “The county will continue to assess properties, the county will continue to bill properties for property taxes.”
A TIF allows the county auditor to set up a special fund with West Milton so a portion of the property taxes that result from the rising value of the developed property are diverted to pay down the debt of the development.
“Nobody loses as a result of there being new development. What happens is there’s more taxes paid, more property taxes. Each one of those (new) homes will have a value and taxes will be paid on that value,” Bell said. “Right now it’s farmland and there’s not a lot being paid.”
The Stillwater Crossings development requires two kinds of TIF: commercial and incentive district, or residential. The incentive district TIF will not divert new property tax money away from the school district, Bell added.
Andy Brossart of Bradley Payne Advisors, one of the village’s advisors on this development, discussed the projected revenue to be generated by the properties over time for the TIF.
The Randall assisted living facility is projected to generate $5.3 million, the proposed medical center, $3.7 million; the commercial complex, $5.4 million; the senior duplexes, $6.9 million; and the single family homes, $5.3 million. A 5 mill assessment charge is projected to generate $1.2 million.
Debt service for the development would be split into two phases.
Brossart noted that the village is not issuing the debt for the development. The Montgomery County or Warren County Port Authorities are in talks to issue the bonds needed for the project, he said.
“I understand we’re a little unusual in the way we’re setting up a TIF, in that in a normal circumstance the village would be paying for the infrastructure and paying ourselves back — we would be responsible for the debt service and the bonds,” Councilman Jason Tinnerman said. “And in this case, the developer is taking on that responsibility. So at no point can that responsibility or financial obligation come back to the village?”
Bell confirmed that the village would not be financially responsible for the development.
“Here, the developer, the municipality and the bond issuer are entering into contract agreements that cause that risk that was borne by the developer to be shifted to the bond market. The bond market assigns an interest rate. The bond market and the issuer are essentially responsible for paying the debt,” Bell said.
Mayor Scott Fogle and Tinnerman expressed concerns about prices for homes in the development. Fogle said that council was initially informed that the single family homes in Stillwater Crossings would sell in the $215,000-300,000 range, but they have now heard home valuations in the $180,ooo range.
Brossart and Bell explained that conservative figures were used in figuring the revenue and debt service estimates and added that property valuation is often variable.
Tinnerman also asked for an itemized breakdown of all work going into the development.
“What my concern is, if construction costs or the infrastructure exceeds the estimates, that there will be cut backs in other areas to make up for that. And so, what I’m interested in making sure is that in our development agreement, there are certain things being promised to be done and regardless of what that cost may be, that they’re going to be covered,” Tinnerman said. “I need to know who would be responsible for that additional cost going into this.”
Municipal manager Matt Kline pointed out that the plans were laid out in the development agreement.
“If there’s any major change, that would have to go through the entire process all over again, starting with the planning board,” he said.
Tinnerman asked that the development agreement include more detail about required project aspects.
The project engineer, Choice One Engineering, will finalize the plans later this summer.
Tinnerman also asked if a cap on infrastructure spending could be built into the TIF.
Brossart cautioned against writing the TIF “too tight.” Bell said the spending could legally be capped, but he advised against it.
“There are a number of practical reasons why it might not make sense, especially when the expected size of the project is still variable,” Bell said. “You may be inadvertently hedging your bets too much. You may be artificially limiting your own benefit from the project.”
Concerns about how the school district will accommodate new students moving into the development were also raised during the hearing.
“We’re concerned with that, too,” Fogle said, pointing out that most of council has children or grandchildren in the district.
Councilwoman Sarah Copp noted that the home building and arrival of families with potential new students will happen in phases.
“There won’t a kid for every home that’s school-aged, and they’re going to be spread out throughout the school. They’re all not going to be kindergarteners or first graders, so I honestly can’t see it making that huge of an impact on the high school alone or the elementary alone,” Copp said.
Council also heard from several residents, including former councilwoman Deborah Miller, who spoke in favor of the project. Miller compared the development to buying her first house, saying that she was both excited and scared when she bought her first house.
“You guys are asking the right questions, you’re doing the right research, you’re doing everything that you should — but you’re never going to get guarantees,” Miller said.
Miller urged council not to listen to those who don’t want West Milton to change, adding that there is a lot of excitement about the project in the community.
Longtime resident Alice Martin also spoke in support of the development.
“A lot of times I don’t like change, but I’ve been very encouraged by this new development,” Martin said.
Martin said that she knows there are always problems and risks associated with such big projects, but said she feels the village needs to grow.
“We need to move forward instead of backward,” she said. “We really need to take a chance on this.”
Fogle thanked residents for coming to the hearing and those involved in the planning of the project for their hard work and due diligence.
“I think it’s a great thing for the community. It’s something we’ve needed for a long time,” Fogle said.
Council will meet in regular session at 7:30 p.m. July 11. There will be another public hearing, this time on the proposed rezoning of the Stillwater Crossings property, and readings of TIF ordinances for the development.
Reach Cecilia Fox at firstname.lastname@example.org.