By Michael Howell
The Ravalli County Commissioners have been trying, unsuccessfully, to work with the City of Hamilton to establish an Industrial Tax Increment Financing District near the airport since May of 2011. Last week the commissioners decided, on their own, to move forward with the project.
Julie Foster, Director of the Ravalli County Economic Development Authority, told the Commissioners that her agency had successfully helped both Stevensville and Hamilton apply for Community Development Block Grant funds to establish industrial tax increment financing districts.
No tax rate hike for existing businesses is involved in the establishment of a TIFD. It is a state authorized funding mechanism that allows cities and counties to direct property tax dollars that accrue from new development, within a specifically designated district, to community and economic development activities within that district.
Stevensville used its CDBG money, two grants totaling $20,000 along with $5,000 in town funds and $5,000 in county funds, to establish an Industrial TIFD. That $30,000 helped leverage over $850,000 in additional funds which were used to extend town sewer lines to the district.
The City of Hamilton also received $20,000 in CDBG funds, but that money has since been returned due to lack of action in establishing their own TIFD district. Foster said that she has since heard from Department of Commerce officials that Big Sky Trust funds may soon be available for such a project. She suggested that the County consider moving forward with the proposed TIFD. She said that in order to qualify for the funds, however, a Neighborhood Plan would have to be developed for the property in the district since the county as a whole does not have a Growth Policy. She said a budget for the district would also have to be developed.
Commissioner Jeff Burrows expressed concern about the potential for forcing someone into the district if, for instance, their property was wholly surrounded by it. Foster said that anyone can opt out of a district and no one would be forced to join. She said the current area under consideration at the airport included only a few landowners other than the county and they had already expressed a willingness to be included.
Commissioner Greg Chilcott suggested that, since a fundamental aspect of establishing the district would involve bringing water and sewer service to the area, the first step might be to study the feasibility of extending such services to the district.
The commission agreed that it would be a good idea to look into the possibility and cost of such a study.