Struthers hopes tax increment financing will aid in downtown revitalization
By Graig Graziosi
The city of Struthers is hoping an alternative public funding model can help breathe new life into the city’s modest downtown.
City Council, at its final meeting before summer recess, approved an ordinance creating a 10-year, 75-percent tax abatement for CASTLO [Campbell, Struthers, Lowellville] Industrial Park – home to an Aqua Ohio facility — and a tax-increment financing [TIF] area at the industrial park.
Rather than paying property taxes, CASTLO will pay annual service fees equal to its property tax rate, which will be deposited by the Mahoning County auditor into a fund for use in pre-determined, public-improvement projects centered around the city’s downtown.
TIFs are often used by municipalities to address areas considered blighted to the point that investment from outside entities is unlikely.
Under the new legislation, the city is required to use any money collected into the TIF fund for improvement projects at the CASTLO industrial park or toward the city’s downtown infrastructure.
Cities can’t spend public money upgrading infrastructure for private businesses, but the TIF agreement allows the city to invest in infrastructure at the CASTLO site.
The hope is that through isolating and directly investing the funds generated from the CASTLO industrial park back into downtown development, the city may be able to improve the area and attract more businesses to the city’s center.
Some of the projects tagged to receive money from the TIF fund include resurfacing of state Route 616 and Bob Cene Way, public parking improvements on Main and State streets, building demolitions, a signal upgrade at Bridge Street and State Street and sanitary and waterline extensions at Astro Shapes.
Though the fund has been created, the amount each entity — the city of Struthers and CASTLO — will receive from the fund has yet to be determined.
The TIF fund is expected to collect $31,458 annually, giving the city just under $315,000 to put toward improvement projects over the course of the fund’s lifetime.
As with a tax abatement, other public entities that would have benefitted from the collected taxes — such as schools and libraries — still lose out on that money.
An impact calculation provided by the city shows that during the TIF’s active period the city’s school district will lose on $1,638 a year, or $16,380 over the duration.
Struthers Board of Education Treasurer Brian Rella said that while he could make use of an additional $16,380, it’s not a crippling amount for the district.
“There’s not a whole lot we can do about it if the district was opposed, but the money being held from the CASTLO deal isn’t a huge sum, and we aren’t losing any money we already have, we’re simply not receiving any new money,” Rella said.
TIFs have been the subject of some controversy in other communities, as it’s possible for a municipality to create a TIF without explicitly stating what the funds will be used for.
Christina Bohl, Struthers city auditor, said the mixed reputation of TIFs is exactly why she and city law director John Zomoida emphasized specific language in the ordinance that created the TIF.
“We knew that transparency was going to be extremely important, so we wanted to make sure it was very clear what that money would be used for in the language of the ordinance,” Bohl said.