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Morgantown, Mon leaders talk possible TIF district to fund airport development

Morgantown City Manager Paul Brake and Airport Director Jonathan Vrabel sat down in a work session with the Monongalia County Commission on Wednesday to discuss a possible TIF, or tax increment finance, district to help fund impending developments at the airport and beyond.

As an added bonus, they ended up getting pitched on the development of a joint city/county airport authority for the municipally owned airport.

“This proposal would strengthen the economic power of our area. It would be good for both government entities,” Commission President Ed Hawkins explained.

“We know what we could develop at this airport would be entirely different from the passenger service offered out of Bridgeport. We know this county is strong. We know this would form a cooperative alliance between these two parties that could be looked upon as a jumping off point, if you will.”

While Brake said the airport authority idea is a conversation worth having, he also noted the airport is a $500,000,000 asset into which the city has made considerable investment.

In the meantime, Brake was more focused on discussing a cooperative alliance that would result in a TIF district to help fund the local portion of a $50 million runway extension and accompanying I-68 commerce park development.

In a TIF district, a city or county — in this case the district would straddle both — designates an area in need of development and a baseline tax is locked in based on the value of the property in that area. Taxes generated beyond that designated value go back into the district to fund infrastructure improvements.

In November, the city received the green light from the Federal Aviation Administration on a project to add 1,001 feet to its 5,199-foot runway.

The majority of the project’s funding will be federal appropriations. The best case scenario is 90% federal funding and 10% split between state and local sources.

In conjunction with the extension project, which is slated to begin this fall, a commerce park will be developed. Estimated at 90 acres, the park will be the site from which 4.4 million cubic yards of earth will be taken to build up a foundation for the runway extension.

While there were initially more county questions than city answers — including concerns about the exact parameters of the district and the timeline given construction is months away and there would be no reimbursement on work done prior to the district’s creation — it was determined that the best first step would be to figure out if such a district is financially feasible.

The parties have engaged Crews & Associates to pull together projections of what the economic impact of the district would be. Should things advance, this information will be submitted to the West Virginia Development Office, which will ultimately approve or deny the TIF application.

“That’s one of the things that the application is going to require. An analysis of what the potential development could be and what revenues might be generated from it from a tax revenue standpoint,” County Bond Counsel Tom Aman said.

“When do we think we can get businesses in there? Who are we talking to? What is the size of their potential investments? Those are the kinds of questions the development office is going to be asking.”

Should it ultimately go ahead, the TIF could be used to help fund the runway project and build roads and run water and sewer to the commerce park. It wouldn’t fund construction projects for businesses looking to invest there.

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