In February, Columbus City officials announced a massive giveaway to a major developer to build upscale housing at Easton. The city and school district will forego a total of $68 million in property taxes over the next thirty years. In return, The Georgetown Co. will make a total of $5.75 million in contributions toward development in the Linden area – $4.25 million of which will be repaid to them using a tax increment financing district, or TIF. The deal also requires Georgetown to create a total of 500 full-time, non-retail jobs over the next 11 years. Ostensibly the income tax revenue from these jobs would offset a portion of the lost property tax - but the penalty for missing the goal is only $100,000 per year.
Jasmine Ayres, a candidate for City Council supported by Yes We Can Columbus, responded with concern in her letter to the editor of the Columbus Dispatch, “Linden deserves the resources and infrastructure development that City Hall has denied the community for decades. But those resources shouldn't be packaged into a deal that allows wealthy developers and big corporations to avoid paying $68 million that would have gone to our schools. This deal robs our children in the public school system of the resources they need and deserve.”
Abby Vaile, one of the Yes We Can slate of three school board candidates, said, “It just becomes what I consider corporate welfare. I don’t think huge corporations should be asking for huge handouts of money that affect our school system financing.”
A few days after the announcement was made, news broke that Columbus City Schools were not at the table as the deal was put together. School board members found out about the tax abatement deal when it was rolled out to the public, even though the deal had been in the works since last summer. Columbus City Schools stand to lose tens of millions of dollars in future tax-revenue growth.
Erin Upchurch, a school board candidate supported by Yes We Can, called for the Board of Education to speak up and push back against the deal, “As a parent and a taxpayer, I would absolutely love to hear the board stand up and say: We do not support this deal.”
“I think we need to speak out every time a deal happens that will negatively impact the funding and stability of our schools, especially when that burden is transferred to our community,” said Amy Harkins, another Yes We Can candidate for Columbus Board of Education.
“Our families are continually asked to pick up the tab while wealthy developers receive tax abatements,” Harkins said. “The school board needs a voice when these deals are proposed, and they need to stand up and speak out for the best interests of our students and our community."
Of the incumbent Board of Education members up for re-election, Dominic Paretti was the only one of three members to push back. He said the school board needs to be at the table when tax giveaways are negotiated in the future. WOSU Public Radio’s Ann Fisher reported that all Board of Education members declined an invitation to be part of conversation on All Sides With Ann Fisher.
While Georgetown and Easton property owners save a projected $68 million over 37 years in abated property taxes, Columbus City Schools will lose roughly $46 million, according to the Columbus Dispatch. Upchurch said the district can’t wait 37 years for the money. “That’s a whole lifetime. We’ve got kids who are in school now. We’ve got kids who are struggling now,” said Upchurch.
There are eight candidates running for Board of Education and ten candidates running for City Council in the primary election on May 2. The top six candidates in both races will move on the general election. To learn more about the Yes We Can Columbus candidates for Board of Education and City Council, please visit http://yeswecancolumbus.org/candidates