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Vandalia City Council ups TIF recommendation

The Vandalia City Council agreed to up the percentage on a new TIF recommendation during its meeting Monday evening.

In a 3-3 decision, with Mayor Ricky Gottman making the tie-breaking vote, the council approved the amended recommendation for a new TIF agreement.

Drake Thompson, who owns the Turning Leaf, is looking to renovate and acquire  the former Vandalia Furniture store, located at 114 N. Kennedy Blvd. He met with the Tax Increment Financing Advisory Committee on June 2, where the committee recommended the TIF funds totaling $79,788.29, or 25 percent of the total project.

Thompson addressed the council Monday, asking the aldermen to consider 50 percent of TIF Funds, and laying out how he believes his new business would help the city and the downtown area flourish.

“I’m trying to create a destination down there, an experience for people when they come to Vandalia,” Thompson said. “I’ve been in business for almost seven years. I want to keep doing that but I want to grow.”

Thompson explained that the rising construction costs and the extent of the project is why he is in need of the funds. He says he believes his online business will generate more sales tax revenue for the city as well as provide local jobs.

“That building has been empty for a decade,” he said. “It’s solid but to get it up to code is a big project.”

After a lengthy debate, Alderman Steve Barker amended the original recommendation to fund 35 percent of the project, or $111,704.31. He added that the TIF is the only tool the city has to help those who want to invest in the community.

“He is a young entrepreneur,” Barker said. “And this is Vandalia’s future.”

Several other members voiced concerns over the use of TIF funds for acquiring properties.

“I’d be your biggest advocate for the 25 percent for renovations,” Alderman Bret Brosman said. “I’m just not comfortable using government funds for acquisitions.”

The vote was split with Brosman, Andy Lester and Ken Hubler voting no and Barker, Joel Rebbe and Kenny Lewey in favor of the increase.

Mayor Gottman explained that the reason he was in favor of the 35 percent for Thompson’s project is because he believes the city needs to invest in the future economic development.

“We have got a young man who is trying to grow the town that he lives in,” he said. “He has an existing business that is very successful. I think he deserves a little more than what was recommended.”

The city council had previously set the precedent of approving TIF funds for acquisition before, including the approval of 60 percent of TIF funds to be used for the new Beauty Mark salon location at the site of the old Depot. That project was reportedly funded for $452,400.

During the public comment section of the meeting, Thompson once again addressed the council for clarification about the TIF application process and hoped the council would reconsider using TIF funds for 50 percent of the renovation costs. He asked what was he not providing to get what had been awarded in the past.

Although they did not address his request for additional funds, several aldermen stated that TIF decisions are not easy ones to make and each application is assessed on a case by case basis.