A decision on the much-debated ordinance for the city of Greencastle to institute an economic improvement district in the city's downtown will have to wait until at least February.
Having tabled the ordinance after a Dec. 31 special session, the Greencastle Common Council once again opened the issue to discussion at Tuesday's regular meeting.
Issues regarding the legality of the move were brought up in the course of the discussion, leading city attorney Lori Hardwick to advise the council members to table the matter again. They unanimously chose to do so.
The chief issue in question was brought up by property owner and attorney Cheryl Danberry. At question is the legality of tax-exempt agencies being included in the district.
Although the payment of the property owners into the district would be considered an assessment and not a tax, Danberry contended that these tax-exempt agencies could not be legally made to pay the assessment. In this case, signatures representing those agencies in the petition would not count on the original petition.
Danberry said that without these and a signature representing a property where only one of two owners signed, the signatures on the original petition would represent only 66.06 percent of the assessed value in the district. This would fall below the minimum required by the state of 66 and two-thirds percent.
While Danberry brought forward a number of other possible issues, the issue of not-for-profits and their relationship to the district was of chief concern to Hardwick in requesting more time to review the issue before further council consideration.
New board president Adam Cohen agreed with Hardwick's arguments, saying there were two issues the board had to deal with. They need to determine the legality of the district and they need to decide on the validity of the issue.
"We need to answer the first before we go on to the second," Cohen said.
Given that the legality is still in question, the council chose to have limited discussion on the subject.
"It would seem to me, without the knowledge of legality, our discussion tonight would be fruitless," Mayor Sue Murray said.
In his comments at meeting's end, Fourth Ward representative Terry Smith encouraged continued public discussion of this issue, requesting that anyone wishing to discuss the pros or cons of the proposal call him to share their thoughts.
A number of arguments from the public came out in the night's comments. Those opposed to the move question its legality, its necessity in a time of economic distress and are upset by the fact that more owners were not involved before the proposal was close to going before the city officials.
"There were a lot of us never notified until after they had enough signature," said George Hecko, owner of Jerry's Foreign Auto. "I think, at the very least, what the board needs to do is re-poll."
On the other side, the supporters said the city needs this measure to make the downtown more appealing and to ensure the future vitality and growth of the business district and the entire city.
"There is a great deal of support among those who have a great deal at stake in this proposal," said Ken Eitel of Eitel's Flowers and Gifts. "It will encourage a new generation of owners who will invest for their future."
Following a public hearing on the issue, the board approved a resolution to declare an economic revitalization area at 300 S. Warren Dr. At this location, Heartland Automotive will be investing $751,000 in new equipment as well as $139,000 in new tooling.
Additionally, Subaru, for whom Heartland will be producing products on the new equipment, will be investing another $3 million in new tooling.
With approval of the measure, Heartland will receive a seven-year tax abatement on the new equipment, but not on the tooling.
Putnam County Economic Development Director Bill Dory, speaking on behalf of the company, reminded board members that this move would not create new jobs, but would retain current workers, a good benefit in these economic times.
In organizational matters, the council elected Cohen its president for 2009, replacing John Lanie. They also decided to keep regular meetings on the second Tuesday of the month at 7 p.m.
At Smith's suggestion, the council appointed Jeff Sigworth to the Board of Zoning Appeals. They also voted to re-appoint Steve Gauly and Jim Ruark to the Redevelopment Commission.
As for their own responsibilities, the council voted unanimously to kept the same assignments and department liaisons for 2009 as they had in 2008.
"It seems to me there's an advantage to continuity," Cohen said.
The Greencastle Common Council meets on the second Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m. at city hall.