Two new grocery stores are coming to Franklin, bringing thousands more in taxes to the city.
But officials are concerned about what else the stores will bring: more customer traffic along U.S. 31.
Now, one city board is considering whether the new property taxes from the stores should be set aside for specific projects to add trails, sidewalks and pedestrian crossings to the highway, along with better lighting and drainage.
But that would mean the money would not go to the schools, library or county.
Members of the city redevelopment commission are considering adding a tax-increment financing, or TIF, district. The district would cover part of U.S. 31, including where a new Kroger Marketplace is planned off Mallory Parkway and a new Meijer is planned off Commerce Drive. Property taxes from those new developments and others in the district would be set aside for infrastructure and economic development projects.
City council member and redevelopment commission member Richard Wertz suggested the idea, which he thinks would help with long discussed improvements to make U.S. 31 more friendly for bicyclists and pedestrians. But before it could be approved, the city first wants to study the impact of a new TIF district and how much the process to create it would cost, redevelopment commission member Bob Heuchan said.
Mayor Joe McGuinness said he didn’t have an opinion on whether a new TIF district should be created because he needs more details, including the impact on the city and the school district.
For years, city officials have discussed making improvements to U.S. 31, such as pedestrian crossings, to make the area safer for people walking or biking to schools and businesses.
“We all agree we need to do something to make it safer for pedestrians and children. They are crossing the highway now without signs or help,” Wertz said.
Funds from a new TIF district, which would set aside the property taxes from the new grocery stores and other developments for those projects, would help get the work done, he said. Paying for the projects out of the city’s budget, which also pays for employees and other road work, would be difficult, he said.
The city is planning a project in 2019 at Mallory Parkway and U.S. 31 to help improve the crossing for pedestrians, and this would build off that work, Wertz said.
Money collected from the TIF district could pay for larger projects, such as an overhead walkway that he wants to the city to consider to help pedestrians cross U.S. 31, he said.
Franklin has other TIF districts, east of Interstate 65 and around business parks off Commerce Drive. The city also recently borrowed more than $15 million to extend its biggest TIF district so it would collect taxes for another six years.
A TIF district along U.S. 31 would not have to last as long as others in the city. It could be used for a short period to collect money for specific projects and then be ended, so subsequent tax dollars would be distributed to all local governments, such as Franklin schools, Wertz said.
“It just needs to be enough money to do the infrastructure parts to make it better for our community for a long time,” he said.
Wertz said he hopes to work with the school district on a new TIF district and projects it would pay for, since school officials also have raised concerns about the safety of their students walking and biking to schools, such as Northwood Elementary School and Franklin Community Middle School.
“This should be a collaboration between the school and city, making better access for children and pedestrians,” he said.