Want to know if a development in Franklin County received government tax breaks and whether it actually created the jobs, payroll and investment it promised?
There’s now a quick way to do that via a revamped website — complete with interactive map — and a new report issued this month by Franklin County Auditor Michael Stinziano.
“Any member of the public can go out and look across the county at what tax incentives are being made in their community,” Stinziano said. “You can hover, look at a specific project and links to the local jurisdictions’ economic development folks. … We’re doing everything we can to hold folks accountable, that the promises made are being followed.”
As auditor, Stinziano heads the Tax Incentive Review Council (TIRC), a panel required under state law and includes officials from county, municipal or township authorities that grant tax exemptions, school boards affected by the agreements and others.
Cities, villages, townships and counties establish and approve tax-exemption agreements. TIRCs meet annually to review whether job creation, payroll, capital investment and other requirements in those deals are being met and to make recommendations whether incentives should be continued, modified or canceled.
In Franklin County, the reviews typically take place between May and August, in advance of a Sept. 1 deadline required under state law. Stinziano released his detailed report of the latest review this week.
More:Franklin County commissioners seek tax-sharing on three residential TIF districts
Abatements and other financial incentives used by public officials to lure commitments for new or expanding developments have prompted plenty of public debate.
Business groups and others generally support the tax exemptions, saying they’re necessary to compete with other areas working to attract economic development projects.
Nate Green, executive director of the Ohio Jobs Alliance, said in testimony this year to the Ohio House Ways and Means Committee that “property tax abatements can address Ohio’s high tax and property costs and drive not just job creation but also local tax revenues.”
Opponents counter that the tax breaks aren’t having their intended effect and instead take needed revenues away from schools and local governments.
“All the tax cutting and tax abating in Ohio has not jump-started the state economy. Ohio’s growth of jobs has been slower than the national average over the past 15 years,” Wendy Patton, senior project director at Policy Matters Ohio, a left-leaning think tank, told the Ohio House’s Ways and Means Committee in testimony this year.
“All that tax cutting has drained resources from Ohio neighborhoods and communities that never recovered from the recession of 2008.”
Stinziano said it’s not the TIRC’s role to takes sides.
“The TIRC is not here to say, ‘Good project. Bad project,’ but to continue to make sure we’re transparent and holding folks to what the terms of the original agreement were,” he said.
Each year, the TIRC releases a report summarizing tax abatement and tax increment financing (TIF) agreements in place throughout Franklin County, along with details on the status of each.
The review covers Community Reinvestment Areas and Enterprise Zones, two programs that exempt from property taxation the value of new construction or building improvements in specified areas.
TIF districts, meanwhile, earmark future increased tax collections for roads, streetlight and other infrastructure improvements made in an area to spur development.
Details on the incentives are open to public scrutiny, Stinziano said, and it’s much easier to access them on the revamped website.
“We wanted to make the information transparent and accessible,” he said.“We’ve heard a lot of folks asking about tax incentives across the county. … It’s our goal to update (and) make sure the information is accessible (and) for folks to understand that our community continues to be very active when it comes to tax incentives.”
Not all projects reviewed this year met their job creation, payroll or other commitments, many due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Examples include a bowling alley that did not reach its payroll total and an elder care center that could not find enough applicants to fill job openings, according to Lane Newcome, tax incentive team leader and TIRC representative for the county auditor’s office.
The Franklin County Auditor’s office does not track how often the reviews result in recommendations for changes or terminations of agreements. Newcome noted that most abatements meet or exceed their agreements.
A total of 25 municipalities and townships had active tax incentive agreements in place and tracked by TIRC as part of this year’s report.
This year’s totals included 294 abated projects, covering 3,925 parcels that were part of Community Reinvestment Areas and 54 parcels that were part of Enterprise Zones.
The properties in Community Reinvestment Areas in Franklin County had an abated value of more than $4.2 billion,with about $111 million in taxes that weren’t collected under agreements with local governments. The properties in Enterprise Zones in the county had an abated value of about $308 million, with forgone tax of nearly $8.3 million.
In total, the abated projects accounted for 41,391 jobs that were created or retained, a total reported payroll of more than $1.8 billion, and a total real estate investment of about $2 billion.
The 2021 report also covered 242 TIF projects that included 22,081 total parcels, with about $109 million in tax collections diverted to infrastructure improvements.
(For reference, there are nearly 440,000 separate parcels in Franklin County.)
The 2021 TIRC report also provides information on projects by municipality or township. For example, there were six Community Reinvestment Areas and 43 Enterprise Zones in the city of Columbus, with an appraised value totaling about $810 million, an abated value of about $456 million and estimated taxes forgonethis year of nearly $12.6 million.
Those projects created or retained 14,065 jobs with a total payroll of about $857 million and a total real estate investment of nearly $779 million, according to the TIRC report.
Additionally, there were 96 TIF projects in the city, with more than $43 million in taxes diverted to infrastructure costs.
In November 2020, the Columbus City Council extended tax-incentive deals it created in 1996 to help subsidize the construction of the Easton and Polaris shopping complexes for another 30 years. The two deals were to expire in 2026, 30 years after their original creation to help divert property tax dollars generated from the projects to build infrastructure, such as roads and sewers and utilities, around the malls.
The new TIF agreements extended the incentives to 2056 to provide funding for additional public infrastructure “anticipated to be necessary” for future business construction at the sites.
The Easton TIF, which then generated about $7.5 million per year, requires Columbus City Schools and the Gahanna-Jefferson school district get all tax abatements they would otherwise get absent the TIF, making them whole. The Polaris TIF, which generated $4.2 million a year, also calls for the Olentangy Local School District to be made whole.
“Those are not small numbers, by any means,” Stinziano said of the job, payroll and investment results. ” A lot of other communities would love to be in the position where they are having to compete to maintain, retain and create jobs.”
The auditor’s website includes a map with the location of each project given tax breaks that allows you to hover over them and get links to the local ordinances and other reports with full details on jobs, payroll and investments at each site.
“Is that information you could have tried to dig up yourself otherwise? Maybe,” said Monica Moran, spokeswoman for the auditor’s office. “But it’s not before been compiled in such an easy-to-follow sort of way.”
To check out the new website, go to https://franklin-county-tax-incentives-fca.hub.arcgis.com/