Letter: Think the city is hindering progress? Think again

By Steve Robinson, Worthington City Administrator The talk is out there again. Worthington's elected officials and city staff are obstructing progress by preventing redevelopment of the mall site. Before I address this, ask yourself one question ...

By Steve Robinson, Worthington City Administrator

The talk is out there again. Worthington’s elected officials and city staff are obstructing progress by preventing redevelopment of the mall site.
Before I address this, ask yourself one question - What possible motivation could we have to obstruct redevelopment and rid ourselves of an eyesore? None of us want to continue watching the mall deteriorate.
Brian Pellowski asked for and received the opportunity to appear before the City Council and present an update on the project. Mr. Pellowski, his attorney and local representatives spoke for an hour and 45 minutes, which limited the council and the public’s ability to ask questions. The few times others were able to speak, his development team’s statements and representations were challenged.
The city of Worthington entered into an agreement in July 2014 with Mr. Pellowski, naming him as the preferred developer of the mall. The agreement states that he would provide development and financing plans. Requests for this information have been ongoing since then. Since becoming the city administrator in April, I have personally made those requests in meetings, phone calls, emails and letters. All have gone unheeded. Last week we received a letter requesting the city contribute $9.8 million for site improvements. It would be irresponsible for us to grant that request without knowing if the project is economically viable and can support this level of debt.
The city agreed to consider Tax Increment Financing (TIF) to help with redevelopment costs. TIF uses the increased property tax (increment) that the new development generates to either pay bond debt or repay the developer for eligible expenses that have been incurred. It’s a great tool when properly used. It can be risky if improperly used.
TIF can be in the form of a general obligation bond issued by the city or the more common method of Pay-As-You-Go. In the general obligation scenario, the city issues a bond and counts on collecting taxes well into the future to make the annual payments. The potential risk is that the development doesn’t generate the added taxes. The city is obligated to make those debt payments for years to come regardless of whether the tax revenue has been collected. The taxpayers will make up any shortfall.
In the pay-as-you-go scenario, the added tax collections are given back to the developer after they have been collected. There is no risk to the taxpayers if the development falls short of someone’s vision.
The developer’s attorney stated that there is no difference in relative risks to the city between the two TIF options. As you can see, there is a great difference between the two.
Mr. Pellowski also focused on the need for a minimum assessment. We agree that this is crucial, as it provides security to the taxpayers. He seemed to infer that it was the city’s fault that a minimum assessment agreement had not been completed. The city has no role is determining assessed valuations. This is the duty of the county assessor. As of this writing, no one from the development team has provided the assessor with information regarding the proposed development. We encourage Mr. Pellowski to reach out to the assessor and deliver this crucial information so that a minimum assessment agreement can be prepared.
Government is slow and cumbersome. It’s supposed to be that way. There is great responsibility when you’re tasked with spending someone else’s hard-earned money. That is a responsibility that we do not take lightly. Your expectation is that our decisions follow thoughtful deliberation and not reckless impulses.
We tax you (and ourselves) and use those monies in many ways that benefit the public. Police and fire protection are provided. We maintain the streets and parks and many other services - all which benefit the general public and not selected individuals. Laws govern how we can spend your money. Not our laws, State laws. Laws that were written to ensure that it’s spent wisely, judiciously, without bias and most importantly so as to not benefit private interests. We are obligated to follow those laws, be fiscally responsible and not expose the taxpayers to undue risk. We will perform those duties unapologetically.
Call me if you still think the city is obstructing progress. I welcome the opportunity to talk to you about it.

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