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Council members to introduce bill to repeal Columbia TIF

Howard County Council members Calvin Ball and Jen Terrasa plan to introduce legislation to repeal a $90-million public financing deal for the downtown Columbia plan.

The bill is set to be introduced at the council's next session, Sept. 5, according to a statement they released today.

The proposed bill would repeal a tax increment financing plan, or TIF, the council approved in November to fund public infrastructures such as public roadways, stormwater management and, most notably, a $51-million public- and private-use parking garage in the Crescent, an undeveloped parcel of land that rests between concert venue Merriweather Post Pavilion and Broken Land Parkway.

The deal, the largest in the county's history, earmarks future tax revenues from the development to pay back bonds and other costs linked to the deal.

Ball and Terrasa said in a statement they decided to introduce the repeal legislation after learning the TIF will no longer be used to fund the parking garage, a decision made by County Executive Allan Kittleman.

Kittleman said he made the decision to remove the garage from the TIF deal after negotiations between the county and the project's developer, Howard Hughes Corp., over who would maintain ownership and control of the garage.

Because, under the TIF, the garage would be taxpayer funded, Kittleman said, it would need to be under county government control. The two parties then decided it would be better for Howard Hughes to pay for and control the garage, Kittleman said, and for the county to redistribute that funding toward accelerated road improvements in the area.

A representative from Howard Hughes could not be immediately reached for comment.

Kittleman said the new deal will actually offer greater benefit to county residents, as the garage will still be public and will be used for Merriweather Post Pavilion as planned, and the county can put the money toward other improvements.

"This is actually a better deal for Howard County than what we had looked at in the beginning," he said. "We're getting everything we would have gotten had we funded the garage, but now we're also getting to accelerate the road improvements."

Road improvements include a north-south connector route to Broken Land Parkway and a road connection from Route 29 to downtown Columbia, according to Kittleman.

Terrasa, who was the lone vote against the TIF in November, said she was pleased when Ball came to her with the legislative idea in the last several days.

Kittleman said he had not been told about the proposed repeal legislation prior to Thursday's announcement of its inception, and had not been yet contacted by either Ball or Terrasa about the bill.

In their released statement, Ball and Terrasa criticized the lack of transparency surrounding the change in the TIF, saying the process needed to be done in "an open and public manner." Terrasa said she had not yet spoken with the rest of the council members, but had the "impression" they would support the repeal.

"To me the issue is nobody reached out to tell us that the fundamental use of the TIF was changing," Terrasa said.

Kittleman said he had discussed the change with Council Chairman Jon Weinstein and Councilwoman Mary Kay Sigaty who represents the area. He said it was too soon to discuss talk of a veto, but that he did not believe the legislation would likely get to his desk.

"It does not seem to me that this is serious legislation," Kittleman said. "We're moving forward, we think this is good for Howard County."

Public testimony on the proposed TIF repeal bill will be heard at the council's Sept. 18 meeting.

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