Village, schools discuss development


By Cecilia Fox - cfox@civitasmedia.com



WEST MILTON — At a joint informational meeting held Tuesday night, West Milton and Union Township residents had a chance to hear from village and school officials about the proposed Stillwater Crossing development.

Representatives from the village and the schools took turns presenting information about the development and the tax increment financing (TIF) plan needed for it to move forward, and took questions from the attendees.

More than 100 community members attended the meeting, after which the schools asked attendees to take a survey.

The TIF would be used to help finance Stillwater Crossing, a 100-acre, mixed-use development located south of the Stillwater Golf Course on state Route 571 and Iddings Road. The development would include a Randall House assisted living facility and senior cottages, restaurants, professional and commercial spaces, and approximately 132 single-family homes. The development might also include a medical facility.

The last development in West Milton was started in 1991, Municipal Manager Matt Kline said. At a previous meeting, Kline said the development is necessary for the economic health of the community, bringing in needed income tax revenue from new residents and businesses.

Because of shallow rock under the site, the development would require an estimated $12-15 million in infrastructure construction and improvements, including roads and sewer systems.

“West Milton has been cursed with rock. It’s very shallow. It makes construction very expensive,” Kline said. “And it’s this rock which has hindered the growth of our community.”

The developer, Equity Inc. of Columbus, is expected to invest between $60 million to $70 million in the project.

According to Kline, the developer will be guaranteeing the bonds and the village will not be borrowing money for public infrastructure.

Because of the high cost of developing this rocky area, the developer is seeking a 30-year TIF. Under a TIF, new property taxes generated go into a fund to pay back the property owner for public improvements over a period of years.

“A TIF is the mechanism in which the new incremental tax value from a developed property helps to pay for the public infrastructure which is built for a development,” Kline said.

As the property is developed and people and businesses move in, the property taxes they pay will be collected by the county auditor and deposited into an account that will pay for the public infrastructure.

Over the course of time, there will be property tax payments which will exceed the annual payment that is due for the debt. All of that money will go to the school district, Kline said.

“We don’t start to collect any revenues from this site until 2020, and we’re assuming a 2018 completion date for the first round of improvements,” Andy Brossart of Bradley Payne Advisors said. Brossart has been working with the village and the developer on projections for the project.

After the first five years, projected school compensation jumps from $104,796 in the first year to more than $2.7 million.

Superintendent Brad Ritchey explained the effect a TIF would have on the school district. According to Ritchey, the district receives a certain amount of revenue on a piece of unimproved property. If improvements are made to that property and that property is part of a TIF agreement, the school district will continue to receive the same amount of revenue it would if the property were still unimproved.

As the value of that property increases, that increment between what the school district receives and what the property is actually worth would be used to pay for infrastructure improvements, Ritchey explained.

Kline said he believes that, in the long term, the TIF and the development will help the school district.

The property must be rezoned and the TIF plan finalized before April 29, in order for the developer to move forward with the purchase. The TIF cannot be finalized without approval from the school district.

If approved, initial construction on public infrastructure could begin this summer, Kline said.

Ritchey and Treasurer Kay Altenburger presented information about the district’s funding and how the development could potentially affect the district.

“We’ve really tried to watch our pennies,” Ritchey said.

About half of the district’s revenue comes from property taxes and half from the state, Altenburger said.

The district has three current levies, all renewals, and a 1.25 percent earned income tax that generates funding solely for the new building.

• 17 mills (effective millage rate of 8.6 mills), first passed in 1992, generates approximately $1.7 million per year for operations

• 10.9 mills (effective millage rate of 9.4 mills), first passed in 2003, generates approximately $1.8 million per year for operations

• 3.9 mills (effective millage rate of 1.9 mills), first passed in 1991, generates approximately $394,000 per year for capital improvements

The 17-mill levy was renewed last fall; the 10.9-mill levy is up for renewal this November.

“We will have a renewal on the ballot in November. We desperately need that renewal to pass,” Ritchey said.

According to Altenburger, the district will also need to ask voters to approve new operating money soon, because while the district’s funding has remained even, costs continue to rise. The district has not asked the community for new operating dollars since 2003.

The district has discussed putting a new levy on the ballot in the near future, but has not yet considered a millage amount, Ritchey said.

According to the district’s five-year financial forecast, new funds will be needed no later than June 2020, Altenburger said. Failure to pass a new levy by the end of 2018 could result in cuts to personnel, programming, or both.

The five-year forecast assumes that the 10.9-mill levy passes in November. The district’s funding is also dependent on the state budget, which is currently under review.

“We’re not really quite sure what the budget is going to bring for us, how much money we’ll receive from the state next year,” she said.

That new money will be needed regardless of the proposed TIF, but with the potential for growth if the development goes forward, the district would likely need more new money if the TIF is approved.

“We would need this money even if there weren’t a development or a TIF being discussed. What would affect us is new construction leading to increased enrollment,” Altenburger said. “It would cause the need for a higher millage of operating funds.”

A potential increase in students means challenges in physical space, personnel and state funding, she explained.

Physical space is limited in the building. Four classrooms that the district is not using are rented out to the Miami County Educational Service Center for about $500 per room.

The district currently receives about $940,000 per year in open enrollment funding. If new students move into the district as part of the development, the district would lose open enrollment students and the funding they bring with them.

The district receives less state funding for students who live in the district than it does for open enrollment students.

If enrollment grows, the district may also face a cap in funding from the state. The state funds districts up to a certain percentage of growth, Altenburger said.

“The amount that we can increase per year is 7.5 percent. If we were to receive 7.5 percent growth this year, we would get all of the funding for those students. If we go beyond that percentage, we’re capped. We don’t get the money for the growth that goes beyond 7.5 percent,” she said.

Altenburger added that this formula is based on the current state budget, which could change when the new budget is approved this year.

After presentations from the district and the village, officials took questions from meeting attendees.

One resident expressed concerns that the development could hurt West Milton’s small town feel.

Councilman Jason Tinnerman agreed that he doesn’t want the feel of West Milton to change, but added that he didn’t think developing 100 acres on the edge of town would be detrimental.

“I think this is a small, controlled growth and that’s why I’m comfortable with it,” Tinnerman said. “That can help in reducing the tax burden for the income taxes that the village collects.”

Another resident said he liked the idea of the planned senior living, as well as the medical center and bringing in new businesses, but is concerned that the 132 proposed homes will be hard to sell. He suggested attracting new industry to West Milton, which might encourage people to move into the community.

“I think trying to grow is a good idea,” he said.

Some attendees described the project as “ill-conceived,” saying they were concerned that there was not enough planning.

“People can think it’s ill-conceived, that’s fine. We’ve paid for market studies prior to this. Market studies have proven that there is a need for two things: one being senior healthcare and senior lifestyle, and number two, believe it or not, single-family homes,” Kline said.

Kline said a new development in West Milton is something he has been working toward for several years. He added that a medical center alone could bring more than 100 jobs to the community.

A recording of the full meeting is available on the WMPA YouTube channel and on the village’s Facebook page.

By Cecilia Fox

cfox@civitasmedia.com

Reach Cecilia Fox at cfox@civitasmedia.com.

Reach Cecilia Fox at cfox@civitasmedia.com.