The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

May 29, 2012

The TIF that keeps on giving

By Nick HIldebrand
Herald News Editor/Weekends

---- — Nothing makes me happier than walking into the newsroom and finding out that there’s a new development in a big story. A few minutes after I reported for work on Memorial Day, there was a big smile on my face.

“The TIF is back,” Staff Writer Joe Pinchot told me before I even had a chance to ask him what he was working on for Tuesday’s paper.

“The TIF.” Those three letters stand for “tax incremental financing” but they spell “big black.” That’s Herald jargon for the story that runs under the single boldfaced headline we use on page one.

The most important decision a news editor makes on a daily basis is figuring out which story that is. Sometimes it’s not so easy, either because we have several stories in contention or because there’s no clear candidate for the spot we must fill seven days a week, 52 weeks a year.

Sometimes it’s a no-brainer. That was the case Monday.

“The TIF” is shorthand for effort by Akron-based developer Levey & Co. to secure taxpayer financing for a retail development in Hermitage anchored by a Kohl’s department store. Its been one of the biggest ongoing stories we’ve had in recent weeks.

Levey says it can’t develop the land without a tax incremental financing plan that would allow the company to use money generated by public bonds to prep the site at the intersection of routes 18 and 62 and then pay those bonds back over the course of 20 years with 69 percent of the money that the company would have paid in property taxes to the city, county and school district. Essentially, taxpayers would be making the loan and paying it back.

While that sounds like a losing proposition for the public, the developer and local supporters have made a compelling case that the Kohl’s development - which would also include smaller retail stores and a big chain restaurant like an Olive Garden - would create jobs, attract shoppers to other city businesses, generate wage taxes, and, even at the reduced 31 percent rate, yield three times as much money for the taxing bodies than the undeveloped land does now.

Whether the idea is good or bad doesn’t really matter to me as a newsman. I like this story because it allows The Herald to do what it is meant to do: Give readers the information they need about an important issue and tell them what their surrogates in government are doing about it.

It’s also perfect story for Pinchot, whose ability to explain a complicated concept and accurately represent the opinions of decision makers is unmatched.

So far, he’s chronicled the TIF’s progress from conception to its apparent death at the hands of the Hermitage School Board and now its apparent resurrection. That’s the kind of work that any local newsman can be proud of and newspaper readers should be grateful for.

I know I am. And I’m looking forward to finding out what happens next.