Metro-East News

Changes to Collinsville’s downtown TIF program to be drafted by July

By July, Collinsville officials say they will have a clearer idea of how they plan to change the requirements in place for downtown businesses to request financial assistance from the city for projects in the form of tax increment financing money.

Other TIF districts in the city could be affected by the same changes that the downtown program, which is a portion of the larger TIF district 1, would face, according to Interim City Manager Mitch Bair.

Among the possible changes suggested so far is to prioritize projects that would be eligible to receive TIF money — with code, safety and structural compliance projects getting the highest priority and projects related to aesthetics getting a reduced priority. Some aesthetics, like signage, might even become ineligible for TIF awards in the future.

Mayor John Miller said during Monday’s special meeting on the downtown TIF program that the city should take a “mall approach” with downtown businesses. A mall provides a space and leaves it up to the tenants to do the rest inside, he said, so that approach would focus on projects that improve or repair buildings.

Code compliance projects had been the main priority when the program was originally established, according to City Councilwoman Nancy Moss, but she said the city strayed from that lately.

“I don’t want to paint bars and stain bars,” Moss said, listing examples of projects that the city reimbursed in the past.

There might also be new eligible projects included in the program, like those focused on energy code compliance, which is an addition suggested by City Councilman Jeff Stehman.

Under the current rules, a maximum of 40 percent of the cost of the work in each TIF application for structural rehabilitation and facade work can be reimbursed with council approval. A 90 percent maximum reimbursement and $90,000 limit is placed on work that brings a project in compliance with the city’s fire safety codes.

The standard staff recommendation to the council has been to award the maximum reimbursement for each application. That recommendation may vary in the future, officials have suggested.

Wendi Valenti, executive director of the Collinsville Chamber of Commerce, said during Monday’s meeting that the fire safety program is “perfect” and that those improvements, like sprinklers, for example, will benefit tenants of the building for many years.

City Council members were in agreement that the fire safety program is particularly important to the downtown area because of the age of the buildings, some of which are 100 years old.

The current rules place no limit on the amount of times TIF money can be requested for projects in Collinsville’s downtown area. A limit is placed, however, on the total amount of money that can generally be awarded for each project: $200,000 over five years.

City officials will continue discussing possible changes, but they plan to have a draft amendment to the ordinance that established the downtown TIF program before the City Council meets in July. Other boards and commissions in the city will review it and provide input, Bair said.

The changes would be effective 30 days after the amendment received council approval. Bair anticipates that will be in August or September.

Previously, representatives from the city’s planning commission, uptown development commission and Chamber of Commerce were involved in the first discussion on the downtown program, which was largely an explanation by Bair of the ordinance that outlines the current rules and the issues surrounding it.

During that discussion, the City Council decided to place a hold on applications for TIF money to the city’s downtown program, except for a few applicants who had already received the bids for their projects, including Sloan’s Pub House, Home Federal Savings & Loan, and Friday’s South.

David Jerome, chairman of the planning commission, also gave the council a recommendation for what he thinks should be required of a business requesting TIF money.

“We are giving them money, I expect to see some type of return,” Jerome said during the April meeting. “... It has to show job creation. It has to show increased sales. It has to show increased EAV (equalized assessed value).”

Residents had their say, too, with several offering suggestions for how they think the TIF program should change. Among their ideas were to eliminate things like beer garden fencing from the projects eligible to receive TIF money; transform the TIF program into a loan program for downtown businesses; lower the total reimbursement limit on projects; and form a citizens advisory board to evaluate applications for TIF money.

The two requests to the downtown program for TIF money that had previously been tabled were each approved by a 3-2 vote during the regular City Council meeting Monday night. Those requests include $71,620 to Sloan’s Pub House, 119 W. Main St., for the work remaining to open the new restaurant; and $6,840 to Home Federal Savings & Loan, 100 E. Clay St., for a new LED sign.

City Councilman Jeff Kypta, along with Moss, voted against approval of both requests.

$1.65 million development

Nearly six acres of vacant property will soon become a three-lot commercial subdivision, including two fast food eateries, one of which will be a Jimmy John’s restaurant with a drive-thru.

The site is located at 701 N. Bluff Road, across from Steak ‘n Shake, and is owned by F.O.R. Corporation.

At its regular Monday night meeting, the City Council awarded the land owner $200,000 from TIF district 1 as an incentive for the development that is expected to cost approximately $1.65 million. A lien of $75,000 was also placed on the property until an occupancy permit is issued for the lot not filled by the fast food restaurants.

This development could not begin under the land’s current zoning, so the City Council approved a request to rezone it to allow for the development of lodging, restaurant, tourism and entertainment and related businesses.

A preliminary plat for what is being called the Compton Commercial Subdivision was approved as well.

New equipment purchases

The police department will get a $29,105 upgrade to its temporary evidence storage.

A request to use TIF money to replace the department’s 16-year-old evidence lockers was approved by the City Council. According to Police Chief Steve Evans, some of the issues with the current lockers are non-secure locks and a lack of refrigeration.

The public works department will also replace a 16-year-old piece of equipment.

The purchase of a 2016 dump truck for $121,301 was approved by the City Council. The Randolph County Road District has agreed to purchase the city’s old truck for $21,500.

The City Council also approved a $35,242 request for two 2016 vehicles that will be assigned to detectives in the police department.

One of the vehicles that will be replaced by the purchase is planned to be transferred to City Hall for use in the inspection fleet. The second vehicle will remain in the police department for general utility use.

The City Council meets next at 7:30 p.m. Monday, May 23, at City Hall.

Lexi Cortes: 618-239-2528, @lexicortes