Fundamental shift in TIF plan demands answers [Letter]

After reading the editorial (“The Tiff over Columbia’s TIF plan,” Aug. 31), it is difficult to distinguish facts from assumptions and decipher the basis for your position.

The editorial claims the county executive “is making a legitimate case that the county will be able to use the funds designated for a garage for other projects, speeding them along.” Is he? To whom? He hasn’t made this case to the County Council, nor to the public.

In the absence of full public discourse, judgment of how legitimate that case may be seems premature.

The editorial also asserts, “there are dangers in changing terms of an already contentious deal.” We wholeheartedly agree.

We believe those dangers are greatest when changes are made behind closed doors. The county’s interests – the taxpayers’ interests – are best protected when decision-making is open to public scrutiny and deliberation.

The proposed public garage, which was discussed extensively during the legislative process to approve the [tax increment financing plan], represented over 75 percent of the cost of public improvements to be financed under that legislation.

The TIF legislation gave the executive broad authority to make adjustments from the plans that were proposed. We recognize that flexibility is essential as plans are finalized, estimates are refined and details are negotiated.

However, what we are talking about here goes well beyond adjustments. It is a fundamental shift in the primary purpose of the TIF that was proposed and approved. This level of policy decision deserves a public process. Whether legally required or not, the county executive definitely missed an opportunity to choose good governance.

Without such leadership, it is our duty as the council to revisit this issue in an open and public manner and to ensure that it receives the scrutiny and deliberation that is inherent to our fiduciary responsibility. This is why we have introduced Council Bill 74-2017 to repeal the TIF authorization. Our legislation provides an opportunity for everyone to get a full understanding of the planned changes, analyze the fiscal impact, and re-evaluate this investment of public funds in light of those facts.

Members of the public are welcome to share their thoughts on CB 74-2017, at the Council’s legislative public hearing on Sept. 18.

Calvin Ball

Jennifer Terrasa

The writers are members of the Howard County Council. Ball represents District 2. Terrasa represents District 3. Both are Democrats and sponsors of the repeal legislation.

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