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County grants CIE request

BY Carolyn Muyskens - cmuyskens@chronicle-tribune.com

In a unanimous vote, the Grant County Commissioners gave jurisdiction of a Central Indiana Ethanol-owned property that is outside Marion city limits to the City of Marion Redevelopment Commission.

The move will allow the Redevelopment Commission and the Marion City Council to approve the expansion of a tax-increment financing (TIF) district to include the property.

In addition to the TIF district expansion, CIE is asking for a $3.65 million TIF bond, which the revenue of the TIF district will pay off.

The bond will help pay for a $25-million, three-phase project that is underway at the former Omnisource site.

The commissioners did not give their approval without asking questions about the existing TIF district, including why its base assessed value was set to zero around 10 years ago.

The base assessed value is supposed to be set at the value of a piece of property before the TIF district takes effect. Property taxes on the base assessed value continue to be paid to units of local government.

A base assessed value of zero means local government units get no property tax dollars from the district and everything is instead captured by the TIF.

Former Grant County Auditor Roger Bainbridge said he recalled the paperwork coming across his desk and said it raised questions for him.

“I publicly took a position that CIE’s base value had been zeroed out and that should not happen and that I would like to see an amended TIF neutralization form in order to fix that,” Bainbridge said.

But Bainbridge said he didn’t have the authority to reject the form that zeroed out the district.

Tom Hunt, corporate counsel for the City of Marion, took Bainbridge to task for that explanation.

“Mr. Bainbridge’s continued insistence that this issue is somebody else’s fault is breathtaking. It’s just breathtaking. Everything I sent you gentlemen last week ... indicates that the responsibility is the auditor(’s). And who was the auditor when all these parcels were zeroed out? Mr. Bainbridge,” Hunt said.

“If you are the auditor and you’re bound by the State of Indiana to assume the responsibility for the accuracy of these neutralization forms and sign off on them, when you get one that has a zero on it, wouldn’t you ask why?” Hunt added.

Bainbridge said when he asked why, he was told that the assessed value was dropped because the “financing was in need of additional funds.”

Hunt said CIE had only learned of the base assessed value being dropped to zero last week.

Steve Smithley, president of the Marion Redevelopment Commission, told the commissioners that there wasn’t much value trying to figure out whose fault the zeroed-out district was. He said he was confident the current auditor Jim McWhirt would not let the same thing happen to the new part of the district.

“Jim is aware, I’m aware, everybody here is aware that there was an issue. If a neutralization comes through with a zero valuation … (McWhirt)’s going to question, he’s going to talk to us. I don’t see going forward (that) it’s a problem,” Smithley said.

As they explained their decision to give the Redevelopment Commission jurisdiction, allowing the project to move forward, the commissioners said they heard from many people in the community both for and against but that the majority of public comments had supported the CIE plan – in particular local farmers and businesses.

“There’s no question the ethanol plant is a good corporate partner, so to speak, with the local units of government and has done many things to help out local units of government. … Definitely we do not want to impede in the economic development (of Marion),” Burton said.

Commissioner Ron Mowery said he started out skeptical of the TIF request but a recent meeting with CIE officials began to change his mind.

Mowery said he appreciated the work CIE has done to improve the image of the city as travelers enter from the west on Ind. 18 and said he’d like to see CIE continue to improve the entrance to the community.

Bardsley said he voted yes for similar reasons.

“There’s no question that CIE has in fact helped our agricultural community and economic development in that particular corridor,” Bardsley said.

The TIF district expansion and TIF bond for CIE will still need approval from the Marion Redevelopment Commission, which meets March 19 at 4 p.m., the Marion Economic Development Commission, which meets the same day at 5 p.m. and the Marion City Council, which meets that same day at 7 p.m.