I have an expectation that our Hamilton County Commissioners act as solid guardians of public resourses and funds. At this point, we can only hope that the city of Chattanooga Council votes no to the $9 million in Tax Increment Financing (TIF) for the Black Creek Mountain group project on Aetna Mountain.
It literally sickens me to see how easy it is to take public resources for private gain. Well-connected groups convolute bond issues and contract agreements in many designer, in vogue fashions with layers, to ensure that the public cannot readily see how they are taken advantage of.
Many saw this in the city's bond swaption agreement, where $15 million left our community in creative financing that benefited everyone but the taxpayers - a deal no one would enter into with their own money.
There is probably no stopping what is a concerted and strong lobby to divert property tax resources to a private subdivision development. In any event, I will spin my wheels, and oppose the TIF for the Black Creek Mountain group because it is fleecing the taxpayers and taking away from real needs.
We should oppose the issuance of this TIF, because:
1) The taxpayers of Chattanooga will be required to provide services, public safety, garbage, recycling and maintenance of the infrastructure for this 2,200-acre development for 20 years with no additional tax revenue. The taxpayers will subsidize all services, and existing public resources will be diverted from areas of need to subsidize the new Black Creek development. The $9 million bond issue for the roadway pales in comparison to the cost of delivery of services with no additional tax revenue. Sadly, the Hamilton County Commission did not define the cost of delivery of these services to the public.
2) An unfair business advantage is created for other land developers and existing subdivisions with lots to sell because the Black Creek Mountain group has their infrastructure loan guaranteed by property tax dollars over 20 years. Property tax revenues from the new subdivision will be diverted to pay for the developer’s roadway. The Black Creek Mountain development will create a taxpayer-backed competition for existing development with lots to sell.
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It is not in the public interest to provide a taxpayer subsidy for a road up Aetna Mountain to allow expansion of Black Creek/Cummings Cove. Some say that it is worth it to the public to defer collecting taxes for 20 years because the community later will reap the benefits in increased property taxes. The flaw with this argument is that this is primarily a residential development. Studies from all across the country conclude that property tax revenues brought in from new residential developments don't cover the additional costs local governments incur to provide services to the new residents. Read more by googling "Cost of Providing Services to Residential Development."
The plan the City Council is being asked to approve mentions projected commercial components. They include a 10,000 square foot village center within the existing Black Creek development, with a restaurant and ice cream parlor. On the top, there might be a restaurant and banquet facility; a town center; a corporate retreat center; a resort lodge, a large office park, and an assisted living facility. Most of these jobs would be retail or service. This isn't Volkswagen where you can make the case with a straight face that the public at large benefits from the tax incentive. What is the likelihood that all of these things will be built? What about the precedent?
Some have compared the proposed new road up Aetna Mountain to the existing roadways up Lookout and Signal Mountains. But these are highways that connect to other places and go into other states. They are maintained by the states. This proposed road would not be a through highway, but rather a street serving one development. It would be a city street for the city to maintain, including repairs due to the inevitable slides.
Thankfully, the City Council, unlike the County Commission, is spending time discussing the wisdom of this tax subsidy. Perhaps this isn't a slam dunk after all.
Helen Burns Sharp
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I completely agree with April Eidson, if I were a developer there is no way you could shut me up. How will any other developer be able to compete with a multi-billion company, York Capital, Black Creek's main investor, that is assisted with TIF funds?
Also, like council member Scott said, there are people that don't have the most basic of services, to this day, and County Commissioner Joe Graham said no one disagrees with the idea of giving a 20-year pass to a multi-billion dollar company. Get real.
Joe Graham is willing to spend an untold amount of money defending praying before a meeting, yet the poorest people he represents are going to have to carry the load for a wealthy development? That is in extremely poor taste and judgment in my opinion.
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Very well said, Ms. Edison.
Another concern would be fire protection. For the city's Coveted ISO 2 rating will they have to build another station further up the mountain or will they lose this and let all of the citizens suffer so the developers of Black Creek can get a free paved road?
If you drive past Black Creek Mountain or look on their Facebook page, you will notice they have already sold lots. They will have to build a road to the top anyway for the homeowners. Why should the taxpayers further line the pockets of the developers by paying for this new road?
Black Creek Farms (formerly Aetna Investments - Doug Stein and Gary Chazen) purchased land that was offered to my family for $250 per acre, then sold it a short while later through the Forest Legacy Program and received $1,000 per acre for 2,400 acres. Not a bad return on their investment. To date they have only donated 1,200 acres and from recent articles at most only 1,400 acres will be protected. Will they treat the city TIF the same as they have the federal government?
My other concern is with the TIF comes the power to seize land through eminent domain. Is this their secret objective by doing this to have a legal way to take other landowners' property for pennies on the dollar? This raises many concerns.
I hope the city says no to this deal. The TIF is designed for "blight" areas. If Black Creek Mountain qualifies as a "blighted" area, then the rest of the city of Chattanooga should qualify and this opens the door and the city treasury to every developer.
It just seems there are many more deserving areas of help than a subdivision with reported billion-dollar financial backing. That would be the equivalent of someone with a dollar asking for less than a penny in financial assistance. Why would they need the help?
Also, while they claim they are raising everyone's property values for those of us who want to preserve the land this puts a tremendous burden on us as we just get to pay higher property taxes.