City-County Council to weigh in on two community self-taxing plans

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- A pair of petition drives that would allow Downtown and Fountain Square property owners to tax themselves to pay for the improvements and maintenance the city won’t or can’t afford will be before City-County councilors Monday night.

The Downtown and Greater Virginia Avenue Community Economic Improvement Districts both squeezed over the 50% + 1 threshold of property owner signatures to command City-County Council consideration.

The GVAC EID garnered the signatures of 53% of the property owners, representing 77% of the assessed value, along Virginia Avenue to Fountain Square and a couple blocks beyond along East Prospect Street to raise $83,000 a year in a targeted limited use levy.

The margin of the Downtown EID has not been released.

“The more important number for me is the assessed value numbers and that one for the Fountain Square is solidly above that up into the 80%. The Downtown EID is going to have a little more trouble but I think both of them have met the threshold,” said Councilor Zach Adamson, a near east side Democrat whose district borders the GVAC EID.  “I feel very good about the Fountain Square EID. The Downtown EID is gonna be a little bit more of a struggle, but most of the people I’ve talked to in the downtown area can see the value in it. It will just have to work harder to get a higher number there.”

Downtown Indy Inc. has been the major proponent of the annual $3 million Mile Square EID, cajoling large property owners and residents who own their condominiums to sign up fund enhancement, upkeep, staffing and homeless and panhandling initiatives the city cannot or will not provide.

“I think it’s a doubling down on the investment that the city has made in the economic viability for that area,” said Adamson.  “This does not replace what the city would ordinarily be investing in those communities.”

While large property owners like Cummins and Anthem signed on just before the campaign deadline on May 11, others represented by the Indiana Apartment Association, many which received significant tax breaks and incentives to build downtown, demurred, citing uncertainty of the EID’s proposed budget.

Mary Webster, owner of Repeal, a Virginia Avenue restaurant that serves “southern comfort food,” understands such misgivings.

“I think that is what people are having an issue with, you don’t want to pay more taxes to take care of your property because you’re already paying taxes that are already supposed to be taking care of your property,” she said.

Webster has watched her annual property taxes climb from $2,600 to $12,000 annually on the restaurant and distillery she owns.

“You certainly want the city to take care of things because your tax dollars are paying for that and our taxes went up quite a bit at least at our place,” Webster said as she considered the additional financial burden the GVAC EID would impose. “And the issue is how much of it will go to my property or is it going to go to certain areas or certain pockets of this area or are we going to see any benefits?”

Both EIDs, if approved, would be overseen by boards of property owners.

Council members have spoken in the past of a significant 60% approval rate that would convince them to support the special levy districts. Mayor Joe Hogsett has referred only to state statute requiring a bare minimum over 50%.

On July 1, a new state law would raise the minimum support to 60% and reduce the length of a campaign to secure that margin.

“Especially in these days when we have such a shortage of dollars from the city to invest in infrastructure and basic things I think the neighborhood would like to see invested in their community, this is one of the ways the city has offered a tool to do that,” said Adamson. “The city has offered to match $40,000 of the money that you raise, so you raise $40,000, the city will chip in another $40,000, you’ll have $80,000 of investment, and that’s a win for a lot of communities that want just a little bit more and are willing to pay for it.”

Currently the neighbors of Woodruff Place on the near east side have an EID that taxes property owners $45,000 annually with an equal match from the city.

If the Downtown and GVAC EIDs both win council and mayoral approval, the boundaries would meet at East Street and Virginia Avenue, providing a seamless continuation of the districts.