Just One More Question

editorial-logo3The recent debate in Jefferson County about the type and direction of economic development has raised another question. When we decide what we want, how far are we willing to go to get it? With so much of the County divided in their views of the future of economic development it will be difficult enough to find a path to something that is palatable to most everyone; then comes the job of making it happen.

Let’s take for instance a recent proposal that is coming before the Industrial Development Board. Most of the citizens of Jefferson County would agree that the area around the 417 exit is ripe for economic development. After all, this is one place in Jefferson County where the proverbial horse is already out of the barn. There is already urban sprawl in the area and it brings in some nice revenue to the County and the Town of Dandridge. What there isn’t, in that particular area, is great infrastructure in the way of water and such and that is a complication for those who might be looking to bring business in the area. The question that will be facing the IDB is if it is the responsibility of the County, in the form of a TIF, to provided a developer with “pay back dollars” for infrastructure that they bring to the table ( as well as freezing the property tax on said property until the pay back is complete). The pay back funds would come from the difference in property tax from surrounding parcels and those with the “new” infrastructure, with the idea that surrounding properties would increase in value as a benefit of that infrastructure. It is one way that cash strapped communities can get infrastructure installed on potential commercial property without a big lay out of funds. But it also ties the hands of the IDB should a potential business in that area want to apply for a tax abatement.

I’m not saying that the idea of letting a developer do the initial lay out of funds for infrastructure needs is a bad idea, but I am also not willing to say that it is a good idea either. This is where Jefferson County needs to make some decisions on where we see ourselves 20 years in the future. Are there areas that everyone can agree are palatable for economic development and, if so, what kind and how far are we willing to go to achieve that goal?

It seems that right now we are kind of flying by the seat of our pants and hoping not to fall. Economic development and the future vision of Jefferson County is a multi layered, complex question that deserves some real conversation. What we certainly do not need is to fall for the first pretty offer that comes our way. We already did that once and the fall out is still falling out, years later. Sometimes things look good on the surface but just can’t hold up under the bright lights. We should have some idea what we want so we can drive the train instead of getting run over by it. And that includes just what concessions we are willing to make to get what we want. We have been licking our wounds for long enough and it is time to come together and plan something real for Jefferson County. Before all the good stuff goes fifteen miles east or west and we get stuck with whatever is leftover, we need to get the ball rolling. So, to TIF or not to TIF; that is the question. Well, at least one of the questions.