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Editorial: Tax district proposal helps hold officials accountable

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Cities across Indiana, including Franklin and Greenwood, have created special areas in which certain property taxes are captured with the goal of enhancing economic development.

Redevelopment commissions control the money, and state lawmakers want more people to have a say in how that money is being spent.

Members of redevelopment commissions are appointed, not elected, and oversee the spending of tax dollars without needing approval from mayors, county commissioners, or county, city or town councils. State lawmakers are trying to tweak state law so elected officials, and the voters who put them in office, have more of a say in how that tax money is being spent.

The proposal, which is co-authored by Sen. Greg Walker, R-Columbus, would require redevelopment commissions to submit quarterly reports to the city council, give information to the council before buying, selling or transferring property, get council approval before borrowing money and reinforce requirements to follow open meeting rules and answer public records requests.

Tax-increment financing, or TIF, districts funnel some tax dollars away from cities, towns, schools and libraries; and those units all have to share a limited amount of tax revenue. The changes would help monitor whether redevelopment commissions are spending money responsibly.

Both Greenwood and Franklin already have city council members who serve on their redevelopment commissions, which helps keep other elected officials informed of ongoing projects.

Franklin Mayor Joe McGuinness said the new checks and balances could slow a project if it requires an added approval, but the board would likely already be communicating with other city officials about a project of that size anyway.

Greenwood Mayor Mark Myers said he also didn’t have a problem with the bill, saying, “We try to follow (those rules) anyway.”

The proposal requires redevelopment commissions to give updates of how they’re spending money in TIF districts. Since board members aren’t elected, if voters don’t like how the money is being spent, they can’t hold those people accountable, according to bill co-author Sen. Pete Miller, R-Avon.

“At some point in the process you have to have an elected official involved that’s accountable to the people. We’ve got a system where we need to have some accountability and an opportunity for the public to weigh in,” Miller said.

We agree. Elected city council members should have a voice because the money raised in TIF districts doesn’t go to other taxing units.

Locally, this has been less of an issue. But uniform state rules would make the commissions more accountable and provide greater public oversight.

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