Highland News Leader

City council moves forward with changes to blighted business districts after quiet hearing

Highland’s City Council will move forward with combining two of its business districts to correct a clerical error in the planning process.

The three business districts were created without voter approval in 2017 to help fund the city’s planned $7 million public safety building and several other city projects, including a culvert set to offset Federal Emergency Management Association flood maps.

To fund the project the city paid Moran Economic Development $41,000 to draft a redevelopment plan that blighted roughly 68 percent of the areas encompassed in both Business District A and B. Blighted areas, according to the city’s redevelopment plan, is an area that has elements of deterioration and visible signs of wear and aging.

The second use for the tax money has been earmarked to bolster business within each district. That could mean spending it in a number of ways — upgrading roads, sidewalks and utilities, improving storm water drainage, streetscape improvements, getting tenants into existing buildings and eliminating different instances blight.

The two districts, A and B, cover Northtown and areas along Walnut Street and U.S. Highway 40 and the downtown district including areas along Broadway and Highland Road, respectively.

Highland’s City Council plans to consolidate two of its business districts to correct an error made while planning the creation of the city’s three business districts in 2017. Areas along Broadway and Highland Road are included in the city’s Business District B, which is set to be absorbed by District A. Kavahn Mansouri kmansouri@bnd.com

The third district, District C, according to the study, falls into the blight definition because, “the vast majority of the acreage is without access to right-of-way infrastructure” and is centered along Frank Watson Parkway.

Businesses that fall into those districts have a half cent sales tax bump on certain retail goods, making the total sales tax in the districts 8.35 percent.

County Board member David Michael, a Highland resident, attended the council hearing. He asked that the council make sure funds from the tax are still used in the current District B area if and when the two districts are merged.

He said the city should think about setting a monetary goal to ensure funds still go toward projects in the District B area.

“There’s a lot of businesses that have been traditionally along Broadway that are going to feel like this is potentially going to take further funds from that older district and bringing everything out toward Troxler,” Michael said. “I trust you guys, I know you’re trying to build a great public safety building, but I think you can understand my concern.”

City Manager Mark Latham said many of the projects, like the new culvert, will aid District B, as well as the planned downtown parking lot on Main street.

“We’re not just focusing on this, we’re going to try to utilize that money on many things that are important,” Latham said.

Editor’s Note: A past version of this article incorrectly stated the amount Highland’s city council raised its sales tax. The article has been corrected to reflect the correct rate increase.

Kavahn Mansouri covers government accountability for the Belleville News-Democrat, holding officials and institutions accountable and tracking how taxpayer money is spent.
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