Hearing set to consider TIF district boundary change

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BENNINGTON — The Select Board has scheduled a public hearing for Jan. 27 to consider a change to the boundary of Bennington's Tax Increment Financing district along Washington Avenue.

Assistant Town Manager and Planning Director Dan Monks said a land survey update involving a sliver of land between the Elks Lodge property and the Tri State Area Federal Credit Union parcel — encompassing just .14 acres — required that the TIF district boundary be changed to reflect that amount being removed from the downtown-centered district.

"The change did not cause any change in the original taxable value of property within the TIF district," Monks said, but the formal hearing is required under TIF regulations.

The town in September 2017 approved formation of a TIF district, and the Vermont Economic Progress Council, which oversees the state's 11 districts, accepted the Bennington proposal that November.

That means the town can bond to fund municipal infrastructure projects that support private development within the district, and a portion of new property tax revenue generated because of the development can then be used to pay back the bond. Since adoption of the Bennington TIF district, no specific proposals for bonding have been discussed publicly by local officials

In its application to the council, the town listed a total of $6.4 million in possible infrastructure work that could support private development and more than a dozen possible private project sites.

The Bennington TIF district totals about 70 acres and includes 155 parcels in the downtown area.

The types of infrastructure work being considered include brownfields remediation, parking facility and water system upgrades; public park improvements, bicycle and pedestrian facilities and streetscape work.

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Over a 20-year period, 100 percent of the increased municipal property taxes and 70 percent of the state education taxes generated by new private development would be available to help finance TIF district infrastructure improvements by the town.

Project was catalyst

In Bennington's case, a TIF was proposed in light of the estimated $56 million Putnam Block project, the first phase of which is underway with about $31 million in renovations in three historic structures near the Four Corners intersection — the former Hotel Putnam, the Courthouse building and the Winslow Block.

No TIF proposals were put forth for the project's first of three proposed phases, but infrastructure to support second phase development, which will include new construction on the four-acre Putnam Block site has been discussed — along with possible projects throughout the downtown TIF district.

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Bill Colvin, assistant director of the Bennington County Regional Commission and local point-person for the Putnam Block project, said Friday that it is premature and not a given that a TIF project will be proposed by the Select Board for the second phase of the Putnam project.

"I expect we would know in the next couple of months," he said.

As for other sites within the TIF district, Colvin said it is possible public infrastructure projects might benefit any development of the former Tuttle Co. parcel off Depot Street, which is adjacent the former Bennington Brush mill, which fronts on North Street.

A building with both commercial and residential space is under consideration for the former Tuttle lot, and commercial tenants are being sought for the Bennington Brush building.

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Colvin added, "As for long term, that always depends on what underlying projects might exist and if there are infrastructure upgrades required. I could see something at the [former Bennington High School building], perhaps down the road."

Micheal Keane, a former Bennington Select Board member who serves on the Vermont Economic Progress Council, said Friday, "If there are boundary changes to the TIF district proposed, those changes will have to be presented to us at VEPC for approval, which should be no big issue at this point since Bennington has not yet bonded for TIF debt."

He added, "When Bennington takes out TIF debt, the original taxable value of the TIF district is frozen. After that point, TIF boundary changes may involve changing/updating the financials and the district map."

Both Monks and Colvin stressed that the significant factor for a TIF project would be whether the resulting new tax revenue to the town from private development would cover repayment of a bond for municipal improvements.

Any TIF bond would require approval by the Select Board followed by voter approval at town meeting.

The hearing on the boundary change to the TIF district is set for Jan. 27 at 6 p.m. at the Bennington Fire Facility.

Additional information may be obtained from the town Planning Department in the town offices on South Street, which can be reached at 802-442-1037.

Jim Therrien writes for New England Newspapers in Southern Vermont, including the Bennington Banner, Brattleboro Reformer and Manchester Journal. Twitter: @BB_therrien


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