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Supervisors unanimously pass Blackjack TIF plan

 

Carl Smith

 

Oktibbeha County supervisors unanimously approved a $4.78 million-maximum tax increment financing plan Monday that, once expected housing developments are added to the tax rolls, will provide funding for numerous Blackjack Road improvements. 

 

The plan is contingent on three proposed apartment complex projects, which combined represent more than $100 million worth of investments, coming to fruition and adding about $593,000 to the county's tax rolls. 

 

The established TIF district encompasses 11 parcels that constitute the development area, and the county is expected to spread bond payments across 15 years with a 4.5 percent interest rate. Interest and principal payments are expected to cost the county less than $500,000 per year. 

 

The housing projects should also provide the county school district -- later, the consolidated Starkville-Oktibbeha school system -- an additional $718,000 per year. The county cannot waive school taxes in TIF plans. 

 

With the additional funds, supervisors will tackle various improvement projects, including road surfacing, widening and overlay efforts, and general infrastructure items in the area, like water, sewer and electricity. 

 

Since the county intends to use the TIF bonds for public improvements, there is no need to reimburse developers. 

 

Monday's action gives the county authority to move forward with the TIF, but supervisors say they will not approve bonds until projects have a measured impact on the tax rolls. The county's tax assessor must first appraise the various parcels' new, post-development values. 

 

Aspen Heights, one of the three housing projects, already broke ground on its project and aims to open its doors before the start of Mississippi State University's fall semester. The other two, District 2  

 

Supervisor Orlando Trainer said, are slated to open in fall 2015. 

 

Monday's public hearing on the TIF matter produced numerous public comments critical of Blackjack Road's condition. Over the years, residents have taken issue with its continued deterioration and traffic flow problems. As developers began bringing work trucks and other heavy equipment in, residents have taken issue in recent board meetings about the road's safety due to the increased traffic. 

 

The three public commenters who spoke during Monday's hearing all said they were in favor of the project moving forward as long as improvements provide relief to the long-standing infrastructure issues and safety concerns. 

 

"We put our lives into others hands when we back out of our driveway," said one resident."Y'all need to drive down this road about 1 p.m. and see it for yourselves," said another speaker. "After that, you'll want to go to church." 

 

Residents asked Trainer when the projects should move forward, but the board president said he could not set a date because of the fluidity of developments. 

 

After the meeting, Trainer did say the county could issue debt in phases -- once one project comes to fruition and impacts the tax rolls, supervisors could begin the TIF process, accumulating funds that would, in turn, be paid for by the developed property's new value. 

 

"Everybody wants to know how soon, but we just can't put a time frame on it," Trainer said. "I've been called a liar and a misleader before, but we're trying to do our part in this process. It's important to remember that there's not anything we can do if we don't have the money in place." 

 

Trainer did not name specific improvement projects the county would tend to before knowing how much money it will have to service debt but did acknowledge calls for pedestrian and bike lanes, additional lighting and concerns over road width and quality.

 

Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch

 

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