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Depot deal shows value of TIF

Use of TIF (Tax Increment Financing) by the City of Johnson City to assist in the renovation of a downtown depot should be instructive to members of the Washington County Commission. Approval by the Commission occurred earlier this year after a spirited debate about the value of the program.
Now, the Johnson City Development Authority (JCDA) is in the process of purchasing and converting the former Carolina, Clinchfield and Ohio Depot into a multi-purpose facility that will assist in the planned revival of downtown Johnson City.
In order to purchase the property, Johnson City Commissioners have approved an advance of $275,000 on projected tax increment financing (TIF) revenues so that the Development Authority could purchase the depot in time to qualify for a possible grant of $211,000 from the State of Tennessee.
The grant award should be announced sometime in April by the Tennessee Department of Transportation.
As explained by JCDA Executive Commissioner Suzanne Kuehn: “The train station was eligible under two different criteria. One was historic preservation, and the grant also mentions operations of a historic transportation site.”
Apparently the JCDA took a calculated risk in its willingness to spend TIF money just as it is reaching the point of annual TIF income. The depot facility at the present time is little more than an empty shell.
If renovated according to present proposals, the depot could include a café, a bike rental as part of a soon-to-be completed recreational trail coming from East Tennessee State University with a possible terminus in Elizabethton, as well as a railroad history museum. Proposals for the depot’s second floor include office space utilization.
The site’s railroad platform could be the location of both the downtown farmers market and a cluster of year-round booth spaces for produce and flowers, plus locally produced food and crafts.
Kuehn praised both Johnson City for its flexibility in financing and the Washington County Commission for joining the TIF program and increasing its income. The JCDA controls the TIF funds, which result from increased property values in the center city “TIF district.” Collected TIF tax funds are then directed to projects like the depot purchase and renovation.
The Executive Commissioner added: “It’s not only the City Commission. I thank the board – we’re taking a risk, but it’s a calculated risk, and the County Commission staying steadfast with it – is really encouraging.”
County Commissioners nearly reversed their commitment to include county tax increment revenues in the TIF program before upholding TIF in a close vote.
County Commissioners deserve praise for voting in favor of the program. Consideration of expansion of the program to include areas in Jonesborough and Washington County seems appropriate in light of this example of benefits from use of TIF revenues.
Candidates for various county offices should have an interest in and opinion about the TIF program.
The Herald & Tribune always welcomes “Letters to the Editor” concerning such topics. Please address them to P. O. Box 277, Jonesborough, Tennessee 37659; fax the newspaper at 423-753-6528 or e-mail comments to [email protected]