Finance plan for project denied

Loudon panel rejects $20M TIF proposal for Town Creek

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

LOUDON - Loudon County commissioners voted unanimously Monday night to reject a $20 million tax increment financing plan proposed by Lenoir City and developers of the Town Creek residential and commercial project.

The vote against the TIF plan could be a serious setback for developer Bob Overholt, a Knoxville physician who has described the proposed mixed-use retail, medical and residential project as his "personal vision."

"My vision is to improve Loudon County schools," said Commissioner Bob Franke.

One by one, each commissioner explained why they could not support the plan, which would have provided funding for roads and other infrastructure improvements within the 300-plus-acre site near Highway 321 and Interstate 75.

"I think it's a good plan, but I don't think the county should put money into this," said Commissioner Don Miller.

Miller listed upcoming challenges, including funding a school building program estimated at over $100 million.

"We're talking about a property tax increase in the range of 50 cents to $1 to fund the schools," Miller added.

Several citizens stood up to speak against the TIF plan, including Jim Rodgers, who carried a petition signed by 395 residents against the plan.

Ron Moore, another Loudon County resident, cautioned that citizens would remember the commission's vote if they approved the plan.

"Don't believe for a second that the taxpayers will forget this," Moore said.

The commission quickly voted down a motion by county Mayor Doyle Arp to postpone the vote and remove the item from the agenda until commissioners had more time to study the proposal.

"I met with Dr. Bob (Overholt) for three hours last Saturday," said Commissioner Wayne Gardin. "There was nothing new that I heard that would make me want to vote for this plan."

Overholt, who presented his plan to commissioners a week ago, was not at the Monday council meeting.

Commissioners Harold Duff and David Mears also said they were concerned about funding for the schools.

Commissioner Shirley Reno, who said she wanted to postpone the vote but ended up voting against the plan, said she thought the 20-year repayment terms of the loan were too long.

There seemed to be concern among some on the commission that the plan was not properly explained.

"There seems to be a link missing somewhere, said Commissioner Earlene Maples.

Officials from Lenoir City, which previously had approved the plan, said they also were concerned that a lack of understanding had contributed to the county commission's decision.

"I'm disappointed," said Lenoir City city attorney Shannon Littleton. "I feel a few of the commissioners did not have a full grasp of the facts."

The TIF proposal and the Town Creek development in general offer benefits to the county and the schools, Littleton said. The increased sales tax revenue that would accompany the retail expansion would have provided significant revenue to the schools, he added.

The lack of participation by the county is a big step backwards but does not completely eliminate the possibility that Lenoir City may be able to work out its own deal with the Town Creek developers, Littleton said.

"I hope we can regroup and go forward," he said.

Lenoir City Utilities Board General Manager Fred Nelson said he was disappointed that the plan did not pass because Town Creek developers had promised to provide funding for major upgrades to the sewer system in the area.

Because the improvements to the sewer system will still be required, LCUB ratepayers can expect an increase, he said.