Warren County officials want to use a tax incremental finance (TIF) district to help pay for a portion of as much as $25 million of road widening needed west of Lebanon.
Last week, County Engineer Neil Tunison and Warren County Port Authority Director Martin Russell outlined for the Lebanon Board of Education what they are calling a Heritage Area Transportation Plan for the area around Ohio 63, the developments of Otterbein SeniorLife campus, Union Village and the Warren County Sports Park.
The area lies outside Lebanon, but within the school district.
“We are looking at all options and what might be best for all parties,” Russell said after the meeting.
If all goes as planned, construction could begin in 2021.
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The plan calls for the widening to four or five lanes the section of of Ohio 63 running east from the racino complex to Ohio 741 in Turtlecreek Twp.
The stretch, designed for 10,000 cars a day, typically serves 15,000, according to Tunison.
“It can barely accommodate the traffic we have now,” Tunison said.
Tunison said the plan also called for other road improvements in the area around the intersection, but not widening the next stretch of Ohio 63 east into Lebanon.
The plan also includes widening a stretch of Ohio 741 that is currently two lanes and handles traffic headed to Otterbein SeniorLife main campus, Union Village and the Warren County Sports Park at Union Village. Union Village is a proposed mixed-use development expected to grow to more than 4,500 homes over the next 30 years and the sports park is expected to host large-scale local and regional athletic events.
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In addition, one proposal calls for a bypass angling off Ohio 741 toward Ohio 63, north of Otterbein, near the sports complex and Armco Park.
The TIF agreement was established in 2014. It sets aside 75 percent of the property tax from the racino development for 10 years to cover the costs of improving the stretch of Ohio 63 running from Interstate 75 up to the racino complex in Turtlecreek Twp.
An agreement between the Warren County Port Authority and the racino operators split $16 million in projected revenue from the funds that would otherwise have gone to the Lebanon City Schools and other taxing entities.
The money has also been used to relocate a section of Union Road north of the racino and build a roundabout at Union and Greentree roads.
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TIFs reduce the amount of money going to schools and other taxing entities from developments. Proponents point out the money not diverted for roads and infrastructure is more money the district would not otherwise have collected on the previously undeveloped land.
Public interest groups caution communities on the use of TIFs.
“TIF should only be targeted toward areas in special need of development, for projects that are unlikely to occur without public intervention, and with a defined time limit at which point the property’s tax revenue will once again be used for general public purposes,” according to ‘Tax-Increment Financing: The Need for Increased Transparency and Accountability in Local Economic Development Subsidies,’ a study for the Ohio Public Interest Research Group Education Fund.
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Last Monday, Board member Donna Davis Norris agreed with Russell and Tunison that the widening was needed to offset traffic problems. The project is expected to improve safety and encourage economic development.
A graphic shown during the presentation shows industrial, as well as a mixture of office, mixed-use and hotel development.
Superintendent Todd Yohey and Treasurer Eric Sotzing said the road would set the stage for commercial development of land, including state prison land eyed for development, along the stretch beyond the racino.
Yohey and Sotzing noted commercial development would not result in added student expenses that come along with residential development.
Russell asked the board whether it was willing to extend the number of years the agreement would remain in place or to increase beyond 75 percent the amount of money diverted to the TIF. There were no immediate responses.
To help cover the cost of the Ohio 63 project, the county also plans to apply for a Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) Transportation Grant. Earlier this year, the federal government announced $1.5 billion for 91 road, rail, transit and port projects in 49 states and the District of Columbia.
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To improve odds of getting a BUILD grant, the county wants to make a “competitive match” by putting up half of the $20 million to $25 million project cost, Tunison said after the meeting.
Tunison said the county has about $2 million available from the local transportation improvement district and plans to use other state transportation funds for paving and safety projects.
“We also hope that we can use extend the current Racino TIF long enough to finance debt needed to complete the largest part of the local match,” Tunison said in an email.