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Transcript: Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther On Short North Tax Abatements


The following transcript is from an interview with Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther on the use of  Community Reinvestment Areas, which are designed to stimulate revitalization, attract new residents and private development in certain areas of Columbus.

The interview was conducted for the story, Columbus Awards Tax Breaks In Thriving Short North.

Transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers. Please excuse minor typos and errors.

Mandie Trimble: You know doing a little bit of research and talking to folks, tax abatements are generally used to do what the private sector can't. For instance when we had the downtown redevelopment and revitalization it was really expensive to do that, but in a neighborhood as popular as the Short—

Andrew Ginther: We're not done with that yet by the way.

Mandie Trimble: Ok well.

Andrew Ginther:  There is still a lot a lot to go on in downtown it's not as if our work there is completely. 

Mandie Trimble: Right well I didn't, I was insinuating that but, in a neighborhood as popular as the Short North how does the city defend tax abatements in that neighborhood? 

Andrew Ginther:  Well obviously anybody that was born and raised in this city knows what Short North was like 35 years ago, and it has come a long way in those last, I say especially in the last 20 years and that has been in part due to great public-private partnerships that had been in place to help create a district there that we used to market our community all over the world. So we're excited about the track record in success, but that's why this incentive study is so important. 

One of the first things I did when I became mayor was talk to Director Schoeny and his team about you know all the incentives that are in place, all the tools that we have available to us and whether or not we had done a comprehensive study on what is most effective.

Whether or not those incentives or community reinvestment areas ought to stay in place should they be altered, amended because one of my key priorities is you know we talk about it all the time around here is neighborhoods, neighborhoods, neighborhoods.

And so there are neighborhoods out there that haven't shared in the success story that is Columbus, especially since the recovery over the last you know five or six years. And so how can we use incentives and other tools to help spur private investment and public and private partnerships in neighborhoods like the Hilltop, Linden and other places.

We've got a great track record of that using CRAs and whether it was in Harrison West in the old AC Home coast site, the work that our partners Homeport,  Habitat for Humanity, Greater Linden Development Corporation are doing in Linden. Obviously the transformation of Weinland Park was done through the use of CRAs. So we believe that they're a great tool, and we want to make sure that we're doing everything we can as a city to make sure that we're being competitive, and lifting up and improving quality of life in neighborhoods.

Mandie Trimble: In 2014, city council expanded the Short North CRA to an include an additional project and permit a 15-year,  100 percent abatement on new construction projects. Under the basis, the city council was given an exhibit that showed some homes and housing projects were in disrepair and discouraging new development and new residents in the Short North and that was kind of the part of the reason why it expanded this CRA to allow for that new project in those abatements. 

You know given the state of the Short North mayor, you know such a happening place to live, was the situation really that dire? I just wonder if folks you know think that the Short North really needs tax abatements on folks who can afford half million dollar homes down there. So was the situation that dire were people, not moving in was there really not new development? 

Andrew Ginther:  Well if you're suggesting that the administration misled council in 2014 I would disagree with that presumption in that statement. You know there are areas within all of the CRAs that need additional investment in focus and attention, and you know when that legislation came before council in 2014, I was the council president we all agreed that we thought by continuing our focus and helping to secure and drive private investment in the Short North and in CRAs throughout the city.

The important part to remember about CRAs and abatements Mandie is that the ongoing tax revenue, property tax, you know based on the valuation when the abatement goes into place continues to flow. So the school district, the county levy agencies aren't out anything and then at the end of that abatement period there's a significant flow of revenue to children's services, the school district, ADAMH and other levy agencies so you know that's the important part to remember is the abatement is taking place on added valuation, increased property value, not on the existing property value and taxes being paid at the time of the CRA start and begins.

Mandie Trimble: Well, (Franklin County) Auditor Mingo would argue something completely different that the schools are losing out on a lot of money and other services are losing out on those abatements because of the property you know the taxpayers are still paying on the land, but they're not paying on the property value of that house. So. I mean what would you say to him? You know he says it's you know something totally different.

Andrew Ginther: Auditor Mingo is certainly entitled to his opinion, but the facts state otherwise. And that is that you know property values you know and property owners continue to pay taxes based on the valuation when the CRA begins and at the end of that abatement period there's a dramatic increase in revenue that flows to levy agencies, the schools and otherwise.

And this is why we've been working so hard to take a look at other incentives. You know as you know we have performance-based incentives around income tax revenue in TIFFs and other tools that we continue to use so that we don't simply rely on abatements.

You look at cities across the country and you often times have mayors that only view and use tax abatements because often times that doesn't put any city resources at risk. We believe differently and that's why we've worked very hard in the last 10 years especially to go to more to these performance-based incentives for commercial development and office space development to ensure that we're not simply relying on property tax abatements.

But these Community Reinvestment Areas are an important part of our success story as a city and that's why this study is so important to make sure that we're continuing to use them in places that make sense - potentially ending or you know amending the way that they exist in certain neighborhoods and to try to drive private sector investment into neighborhoods that need our help - Hilltop, Linden, Marion-Franklin, other neighborhoods around the city. 

Mandie Trimble: You touched on a few things that I definitely wanted to ask you about let's start with you know economic growth, driving people into areas like the Short North. How much does the city make up in economic development from those property taxes that are temporarily lost from the abated properties and how do you track that success? 

Andrew Ginther: Well a lot of that success is tracked through the development department, and I know that (Assistant Director of Communications at City of Columbus) Cynthia Rickman and Director Schoeny could get you some good some of the details on those successes, but as you know are public-private partnerships throughout the city have yielded huge results with respect to job creation, private investment, you know the public-private partnerships that we have in place. I think for every dollar the city spends we get $37 in private sector investment. So we're excited about that and you know want to continue to build on that success.

Mandie Trimble: I want to talk really quickly about you mentioned some other neighborhoods and you know Linden and Hilltop and those areas have had CRAs or what's called a NID in the past. There are calls for a CRA program in another part of the city kind of in and around that casino area, the Georgesville Road area. How seriously will city council, city hall take those requests for CRA out there to I guess get some private development out there in an area that has really been desolate for so long? 

Andrew Ginther: Well, we believe that CRAs are a good tool. They're one tool. And so you know obviously we're going to look to that area in that neighborhood in the far west side, but that's why this study is so important.

As far as we know a study like this is never been done in the city's history. And so as we begin our tenure and work as an administration there's a top priority for us to you know take a comprehensive in-depth look at CRA and TIFFs and performance based incentives and everything else that we can use and leverage as a city to drive economic development and neighborhood development to make sure that we're doing, we're using all the tools available to us in a strategic way to improve the quality of life in our neighborhoods. So that's why the study so important. 

Mandie Trimble: Getting back to —

Andrew Ginther: I've got to hop off here, any last questions?

Mandie Trimble: I just have one final question, you know in the Short North the exhibit that city council got back in 2014 that showed those rundown properties that were saying that they were in disrepair and needed you know help to encourage people, none of those properties took advantage of the abatement. Is the abatement going after its intended targets then? Is it working? 

Andrew Ginther: So again, if your question is whether or not the Short North is better than it was 20 years ago, I think the facts speak for themselves. Committee Reinvestment Areas and all the other work that we've done in partnership with private sector leaders, developers, the success story of the Short North is a great testimony. When you know government, private sector leaders and developers and community neighborhood leaders work together and it is now one of our leading examples of great public-private partnerships that we take around the country and the world.

So you know CRAs work, we think they can work better. And that's why we're studying it to make sure that it's having its intended impact on neighborhoods throughout our great city.

Mandie Trimble: Was the Short North though in 2012 in such dire straights that it needed—

Andrew Ginther: Ok Mandie, Mandie, you said that was your final question so I've got to get going. 

Mandie Trimble: You can't say though for sure that CRAs—

Andrew Ginther: Mandie, I've already answered the question.

Mandie Trimble: Well I actually—

Andrew Ginther: I mean your entitled to your opinion. If you've asked the question, I've answered it. 

Mandie Trimble: Well. it's not really an opinion it's asking a question that in 2012 the Short North appears to be booming. Did it really need a tax abatements for new development and new homes in that area? 

Andrew Ginther: If you're, you know, I've already answered the question several times. So.

Mandie Trimble: And was the answer yes because sir I really am trying to just—

Andrew Ginther: You're opinion is that it has not, and that it has not worked and the Short North has been an abject failure. And that's wrong.

Mandie Trimble: No—

Andrew Ginther: The facts don't don't speak to that, and you have all the records and information you need to speak to that so.

Mandie Trimble: No the opinion, I don't have an opinion whether it's failed or not I'm asking if the area really needed tax abatements back in 2012, just four years ago? 

Andrew Ginther: Ok. Thanks Mandie.

Mandie Trimble: Thanks mayor.