Jim Longest is running for a third term on the school board. He is also the president of Beam Longest & Neff, the contracted engineering firm for the Town of Zionsville since 2010. While Longest’s dual roles are not illegal in Indiana, his firm received over $500,000 last year for engineering services from the town, much of it in TIF (tax increment financing) districts in Zionsville. It is known that development in Zionsville affects the school’s budget and funding. Development also requires more engineering services.
TIF districts have been created in the southeastern corner of Zionsville and in the Anson development near I-65. Members of the appointed (not elected) Redevelopment Commission have allowed construction of many new apartment buildings in TIF districts. TIF districts are known to divert property tax revenue away from schools and other property tax supported services for up to 25 years. Where is the benefit to schools from commercial development in a TIF district when Indiana TIF districts last 25 years? The RDC is the beneficiary of property taxes from TIF districts. The the RDC then uses the TIF taxes to pay off the bond debt (incurred from infrastructure for the TIF district) and to pay to continue building infrastructure for more TIF districts. Such a tax flow erodes the school corporation’s property tax base and the schools receive fewer tax dollars. This causes incentives for the School Board to ask voters to approve more operating referendums.
TIF districts can erode school funding in another way. When residential apartment buildings are built in TIF districts, TIF districts increase school enrollments WITHOUT adding to school funding. Apartment and other residential growth outside TIF districts DO add significantly to the schools tax base and funding. Many new apartment buildings have been allowed by the Zionsville RDC in our TIF districts, enough to cause a need for additional schools in just a few years. This will cause further increases in property tax rates outside TIF boundaries.
As a school board member for eight years and as the board’s representative on the RDC until 2013, I have neither read or heard any public stand from Mr. Longest to discourage TIF development or to limit their harm to school funding and enrollments.
TIF districts have been banned in California, because they were a major contributor to California’s deficit. There is always a risk of default on bonds by local government whether used to develop TIF districts or other projects. Taxpayers normally would be responsible for any default. For more details on TIF districts see “Indiana Policy Review”,June 20, 2013, Thomas Heller (Economist and Policy Analyst).
Longest has had eight years to find solutions to our school funding problems, yet he continues to support property tax referendums as his only solution. It is time to vote in new leadership and to find new solutions to school deficits. I recommend voting for Dr. Meei Jeng and Marc Miltalski for School Board.