Florence TIF plans explained


Staff Writer

FLORENCE, Wis. – Representatives from several Florence County towns voiced their concerns about a proposed tax increment financing (TIF) district in the town of Florence during a public hearing on the issue Wednesday.

The proposed TIF district encompasses 651.76 contiguous acres in the town of Florence. Included areas are the industrial park, all of Central Avenue, the Natural Resource Center, the area south of U.S. 2 going west out of town, and some parcels north of the downtown area.

Florence County Economic Development Director Wendy Gehlhoff explained that owners of land and buildings within the TIF district would continue to pay normal taxes to the school, technical college, town, and county.

Any new tax generation, which could come from a new building or growth in property value, would be put aside to pay for new developments, such as roads or utility extensions, within the district, she said.

According to Gehlhoff, TIF districts are very attractive to developers.

New developments could be industrial, commercial, or residential in nature. Possible projects include an assisted living center and a hotel.

Since Florence County has no cities or villages, it can only create TIF districts on a county-wide level.

Officials from Aurora, Long Lake, and Tipler felt that they would reap no benefits from a TIF district outside their own towns, but they may have to share in the cost of extra taxes if the TIF district fails.

“We’ve seen businesses fail in Florence before,” said Aurora Town Board Chair Betty Bock. “If this fails, we’re all going to pay.”

Tipler Clerk/Treasurer Diana Hensley read a letter from an attorney for the towns of Tipler and Long Lake.

In the letter, the attorney said that TIF districts should be created to facilitate a specific project. He claimed that Florence County’s TIF plan is too vague.

Florence County Board Chair Jeanette Bomberg pointed out that the plan the attorney was referring to was out of date. The current plan is in line with all state statutes, she added.

Gehlhoff and engineer Jared Schmidt of the Hobart, Wis.-based company Robert E. Lee & Associates stressed that Florence County plans to take a conservative approach to the TIF district.

“This isn’t a ‘build it and they will come’ approach,” said Gehlhoff. “We will have a developer in place before we move forward with any plans.”

If the TIF district in the town of Florence works out, additional TIF districts could be created in Aurora, Long Lake, and Tipler, Schmidt added.

Not all feedback at the public hearing was negative. Several residents thought that the TIF district would encourage business and add jobs in Florence County.

Following the public hearing, the Florence County Zoning Committee unanimously approved to recommend the TIF district plan to the Florence County Board of Supervisors for approval at its May 21 meeting.

The plan must also be approved by a joint review board and the state of Wisconsin before it takes effect. If the TIF district gets approved by September, it will have a retroactive starting date of January 2013.

Nikki Younk’s e-mail address is nyounk@ironmountaindailynews.com.