Chamber leadership urges support of TIF, affordable housing recommendations [Commentary]

Howard County Chamber of Commerce

Economic and community development have always been priorities of the Howard County Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber has always supported initiatives that foster commerce all the while enhancing the Howard County community. It is in this spirit that we support the County Administration's Tax Increment Financing (TIF) proposal and Joint Recommendations on Affordable Housing. The collaboration between residents, stakeholders and the County Council to form a meaningful dialogue and unanimously pass the Downtown Columbia Plan was exceptional. Now, the thousands who have supported the Downtown Columbia Plan for over six years are counting on us to implement the Plan for future generations.

Columbia is on the precipice of becoming an economic engine in the region - a hub for jobs, commerce and business. While we are well positioned to leverage our proximity to Washington, DC and Baltimore, we must have the public infrastructure improvements supported by tax increment financing before we can really "play in the big leagues" and become an indisputable Mid-Atlantic regional competitor to attract new, major employers.

As a representative of business and commerce, it's my job to weigh the cost and benefits of the various proposals before us. Upon review, several things stand out and resonate with me in particular. The TIF is expected to generate $407 million in net tax revenue over 30 years. Those are net dollars available after the new development's incremental taxes have already paid to build a new school, fire station, library and other public facilities downtown. The $407 million is excess revenue generated by Downtown Columbia and available to the rest of the County to pay for additional schools, parks, police and fire protection needs, according to the County's fiscal impact analysis.

Perhaps most importantly, the County Administration's legislative package will bring close to 20,000 new jobs to Downtown Columbia, primarily in growing fields like IT, healthcare, finance and cyber security. Many of these jobs will be secured by millennials. Research has consistently shown that this growing demographic prefers to live near employment centers and recreation opportunities. With the Joint Recommendations on Affordable Housing, these professionals will choose to live Downtown, where they will patronize Columbia's restaurants and retail, truly creating an urban, live-where-you-work environment.

While TIF's maybe an anomaly in Maryland and the greater Baltimore region in general, they are a common economic development tool that has been used in the Midwest for well over 50 years. A key attribute here is that the public benefits that would result from the County Administration's proposed TIF surpass the typical practice. These include a new school, fire station and transit center, as well as unique proposals for walkability, retail and arts and culture.

TIF represents some of the most sophisticated thinking in public-private collaboration, with both the developer and the County committed to the vitality and success of a project. Not to mention, no alternative financing plans have been presented that improves our roads, transit intersections and a public parking garage without raising taxes on County residents or businesses. Because the bonds are borrowed against the future tax revenue of the property and backed with a special tax on the developer's land, the onus is on the developer, not the County, to pay if the site fails to produce enough revenue.

The ultimate goal of the Chamber of Commerce is to strengthen the business climate for the benefit of the community. We are now uniquely poised in Howard County to do just that. As a resident of Howard County and a representative of our businesses, I support the County Administration's TIF proposal and Joint Recommendations on affordable housing. I urge the community and Council to do the same.

Leonardo McClarty is the President and CEO of the Howard County Chamber of Commerce.

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