Our view: Tax district is important, so ask questions

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More details have emerged about the town's plan to seek approval for a tax increment financing district. We're pleased to see that the proposed district goes beyond the established downtown and includes other properties that are ripe for revitalization — ripe with the right incentives, at least.

In short, a TIF district allows the town to bond for infrastructure projects that will stimulate economic development in that area. A percentage of the new tax revenue generated by the private investment then can be used to pay off the bond.

Since it's using new revenue that wouldn't have existed otherwise, this is not asking taxpayers to make up any shortfall, as long as the private developments are solid and carefully planned. And ensuring that they are is part of the TIF process, which requires initial state approvals and annual reviews of both the projects and the financial goals and projections.

The proposed 70.5-acre district would encompass the former Bennington High School/Middle School, one of the town's more prominent vacant properties.

The draft TIF proposal rolled out for the public on Monday estimates $5.8 million in total being spent on infrastructure upgrades, like more parking spots, a better looking streetscape and improved water, sewer and electricity services.

While the TIF, if approved, could help spur the development of many buildings and parcels, the main project it's geared for is the $54 million Putnam Block project. That's the former Putnam Hotel at the Four Corners and the buildings surrounding it. A group of local investors operating as Bennington Redevelopment Group plans to start work on the revitalization this fall.

The Putnam project, and the TIF application, are both examples of this community investing in itself rather than hoping a developer with deep pockets will roll through and see something that they haven't already seen elsewhere. There is some risk involved, but the vetting process for the districts, which have to be approved by the Vermont Economic Progress Council, is fairly tight. Bennington will have to show the council that the TIF will work and that it's needed before it can be approved.

Additionally, town voters will have to approve any bonding for infrastructure, and officials are hoping to present a bond proposal at the March annual town meeting.

Few things are simple when it comes to taxes and economic development, so it's crucial that people understand what they're voting on. No one wants a project we'll all regret, nor do we want to miss any opportunities for a want of understanding.

We hope folks also understand that this is a large, complex endeavor that involves many people and different ideas on how and what aught to be done. Too often in such matters do we see egos and "my way or no way" attitudes threaten to sink otherwise good endeavors. By all means, be skeptical, but also be open minded. We can't afford to be anything else at this stage.

There's a public comment period running until Monday. Anyone can make comments, suggestions or ask questions about the TIF by emailing TIF@BenningtonVT.org.

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