A Different View Of The Black Creek TIF - And Response

Saturday, August 9, 2014
My perceptions of the Black Creek TIF differ from the picture Mr. Doug Stein recently painted in this forum.

I disagree with his assessment that Hamilton County taxpayers would benefit from our $9 million investment. There is no need for our investment. The developers should and can afford to build the proposed road, just like developers do in all other subdivisions. For example, John "Thunder" Thornton recently built and paid for a six-mile road to serve his mountaintop development in Marion County.

The investor for the TIF bonds is York Capital, the giant New York hedge fund which also became the primary owner/developer of Black Creek when they acquired the controlling interest several years ago. These related entities are both the borrowers and the lenders for the $9 million note. The TIF is their attempt to get local taxpayers to pay for their road, to pay them 5.25 percent interest and to pay their legal and engineering costs. I don't believe our policymakers were made aware of this in 2012 when they approved the TIF. 

I disagree that this TIF meets the requirements of state law. Developers have not committed to "construct" the commercial components they mention in their Economic Impact Plan. They say they "expect" to build such things as an ice cream parlor. 

An examination of TIF documents reveals that the developers have not even committed to building the entire road they want us to pay for. Apparently, Phases II and III are optional for them. Developers submitted one map indicating where the elusive jobs are "expected."  A commercial area is shown at the end of Phase III, although apparently the road may not extend far enough to serve the "expected" jobs. Another pesky detail is that this commercial area is zoned residential. 

I disagree that transparency is not an issue. Chancellor Frank Brown recently found that the TIF violated Tennessee's Open Meetings Act. He invalidated the Black Creek TIF because of "Sunshine Law" and conflict of interest violations. 

I disagree with his assessment of the Chancery Court's ruling, which I believe invalidated the entire Black Creek TIF process. 

If developers wish to pursue their quest for our money, they should be required to start all over with the city, the county and the IDB and comply with all aspects of the law. Right now it appears that the developers, apparently working closely with the City Attorney's Office, are trying to orchestrate a procedural bandaid fix by bypassing the elected City Council and County Commission and going back to the appointed Industrial Development Board next week. Meetings are scheduled for Monday and Friday at 11 a.m.

The IDB is being manipulated. This is a bond board. Members should table any action until both the county and the city have reconsidered the legality and appropriateness of this TIF in light of all the new information that has come to light.

Helen Burns Sharp

* * *

Helen Burns Sharp has done the work of the County Commission, the Chattanooga City Council and the Industrial Development Board.  She has not been paid to take on their work, rather she has willingly put herself out there, given her time and expertise, and paid whatever was necessary to right what is wrong.  It is a rare and wonderful thing to have someone available who has the deep background knowledge that is required to understand the subject of TIF districts, and the willingness to put her money where her mouth is.   She has, in a nutshell, demonstrated a remarkable level of courage, commitment, and citizenship.

Instead of listening to her concerns from the beginning, our local government has simply pushed ahead and compounded mistakes.  Chancellor Brown’s ruling validated her concerns.  Had this case gone to trial I am confident that it would have become crystal clear that the process was flawed from the beginning, and I am being charitable by simply calling it flawed. 

The press release talking points issued by those in favor of this TIF district included a suggested ROI to the public.  If this development was built, without the incremental financing, the ROI to the public would be greater.  What has been glossed over is the fact that taxpayers countywide will be footing the lion’s share of the bill for services – police, fire, road maintenance, salting the road in inclement weather, etc., until the $9 million plus interest is paid off.  Either our services will be diluted, which is a back door tax increase, or those of us who pay full property taxes will see an eventual real tax increase in order to keep up with the demand on services.  Also, any development increases revenue to the schools

Temporary construction and ancillary jobs are always created in a residential development.  All developers create these jobs.  The vast majority pay for their infrastructure as well.  The permanent jobs in this particular development are ill defined.  And what is worse our government has not set forth requirements to ensure that these jobs ever materialize.

The question, in my mind, is what makes this project special?  I just don’t see it.  I ask that the IDB send this project back to the drawing board.  I ask our elected officials to give this project adequate scrutiny.

Melissa Cantrell

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