But-for TIF’s and the City of Marietta Comprehensive Plan

“Reduce or eliminate tax incentives for retail and commercial store development”

This was a ringing theme in the 2003 Marietta City Comprehensive plan. Something happened in the process of securing Lowes Home Improvement on the Pike. The statement “unnecessarily sacrificed tax revenues” was used to describe the use of a TIF to assist development. This statement was doubled down upon when it was said later that the “development should have been financed by the developer”, and that the public school system was “deprived of revenue”.

These statements are interesting to me because I have heard about this issue a few times and usually respond with a similar question, when are TIF’s to be used?

By principle, TIF’s should satisfy a “but for” placement, meaning but-for creation of a TIF will said development occur?

This is important because what was often said to me was that the Lowes TIF lost money. Meaning it was money that the school system otherwise would have had. If a TIF was placed, it was likely done because but-for its placement the development would not have occurred. Had there not been assistance, would the structure have been built? If the answer to that was yes, why was the TIF put in? If the answer was no, you cannot call the monies diverted a loss, there would not have been additional dollars to begin with.

It is important for us to remember these principles when we embark on revision of the downtown portion of the Comprehensive Plan. The sentiment that there should be no incentives for retail or commercial development is a blanket statement for the whole city, and was made in good faith. However, in regard to vacant or blighted properties in our downtown, would we be willing to off-set property taxes for the sake of redevelopment of vacant space in our downtown core?

These are interesting questions, and knowing where we have been, what we have done and why the attitudes are the way they are is critical to moving forward with a collective vision.