Main Street TIF Bond Vote: 2/21/22

Here's why I support the Main St. TIF Bond vote, Item #4.

Dear Friends,

I recently posted on Front Porch Forum on why I support the Main St. TIF bond vote, Item #4. I’ve attached that here.

I know that there are people who oppose it, including people I consider my friends and allies. These are people who I respect and have joined with on other projects. On this we just disagree.

As I understand it, some oppose this item because they believe we just can’t afford it. I understand the affordability crisis and believe we have to be efficient and cost conscious but I do not believe that continuing to avoid capital spending to fix our infrastructure makes our city more affordable. Austerity means delay and that leads to continued decay. We are all poorer for that.

Affordability is more certain when we make the right investments and we fix the economic system. Key to this is fixing the tax system; we’ve gotten a start through the attached resolution which was introduced by Councilor Magee and adopted unanimously by the city council. We’ll need your help if that is to make any progress.

Key to affordability means expanding our economic base in a manner that shares the wealth more broadly. This is what the improvements in the Main St. TIF district can do if we are committed to making it so.

Others simply oppose TIF. I understand that dedicating a part of the tax revenues in an area to pay for the infrastructure improvements there is not universally accepted. Still, I believe that when major fixes are needed, as they are on Main St., then we have to be creative in the ways we pay for them. With the federal government walking away from this funding since Reagan in the 1980s we’ve had limited options. TIF is an option.

We get to use TIF district tax revenues on long term improvements to spur investment in the area and fix serious infrastructure problems that affect much of the whole city. We avoid competing with our normal bonding capacity which is needed to fix other streets and sidewalks, make safety improvements, and do other upgrades, as we see on Item #3.

The Ravine Sewer and the large water main are two such problems in the TIF district. So are the planned for Main St. storm water improvements. It is my understanding that there is just not the capacity to do all this capital work without the TIF and the TIF bonding was simply folded into the normal bonding as some suggest.

There are complaints that TIF takes away our ability to deal with the impacts of new development in the district. I’m not seeing that. There are still Impact Fees assessed and kept by the city to cover the capital costs associated with new development. The schools still get all the school taxes generated on the value of the property at the time the district was created, 2011, and 25% of all the increased value since then. With our alternatives to the property tax like the local sales tax and gross receipts tax, revenues that come from sales at new businesses go to the general fund to pay for any increased operational costs. The affordable housing developed as a result of the improvements is housing we desperately need. Finally, when the district ends by law in 2035, all the revenues in what should be an expanded district go back to “normal”.

I’ve heard complaints that the street improvement plans for Main St. are too vague and don’t embrace safety. I disagree, first because the Great Street Plan has shown itself to be a good street design for St. Paul St. and a good storm water retention and filtration system for Main St. and City Hall Park.

Second, the pedestrian and bicycle safety seem significant but can be enhanced as part of the continuing design process that will begin in May 2022. These include slowing vehicle speeds, improving intersections, and adding more robust bike/pedestrian facilities. Specifically these include reducing the curb to curb width of the street, narrowing Main Street intersections with bump-outs, adding continuous protected bicycle facilities and widening sidewalks.

Third, the storm water projects include rain gardens to pre-treat storm water runoff and creating a tree canopy to reduce urban heat-island effect and absorb and filter runoff and absorb carbon dioxide. Structural soil for the tree plantings will serve the dual function of supporting the sidewalk pavement and accommodating tree root growth. Soil cells should provide trees and plants with the nourishment they need, without disturbing the structures above which is essential since the limiting factors in the growth of urban trees are small planting volumes and highly compacted poor-quality soil. Soil cells address this limitation. Permeable pavers will be installed to allow storm water to percolate and undergo filtering rather than going straight into Lake Champlain during sewer overflow events;

Finally, I’ve heard complaints about the way Miro has handled transportation and that he can’t be trusted to make the changes we need. I understand and share these complaints, especially about the Champlain Parkway. I believe we have to make sure that the plans maximize safety, are cost efficient, and the work is done in a timely manner to minimize disruptions to the downtown.

But none of this means the project isn’t needed. We have to be engaged and hold our officials accountable, including me if I’m elected. But if we do, then this project and its impact on so much else we need to do will be very positive, for ourselves, our children, and their kids to come, as well as the health of the Lake and the rest of our environment.

Let me say that I believe all the people who I have interacted with who disagree with me on this care deeply about this city. We also have a shared vision for a socially just city. We agree about so much and after Tuesday’s election we’ll see who has to do what. If the vote is Yes, I hope to work with them to make sure the project is done right. If they prevail, I hope they will work with me to figure out how to fund the infrastructure we need to fix and build. And regardless, I look forward to working with them and you all to build a just city with a solidarity economy that works for all.

If you’ve gotten this far, thanks for reading.

We must do better but together we can.