Commission Eyeing More TIF Land at The Highlands

Ohio County commissioners want a second highway interchange built for The Highlands, and legislation moving through the West Virginia Senate could provide the financial resources to undertake the project.

Senate Bill 540 would expand the Ohio County Development Authority’s Tax Increment Financing District from its present 300 acres to 500 acres – a move that would provide the authority with a share of the sales tax dollars generated by car dealerships and businesses on the south side of Interstate 70.

TIF districts are a method of financing infrastructure improvements that are expected to bring increased tax revenue. The resulting revenue is then used to pay off the cost of the infrastructure improvements.

“The main focus is if we can take the sales tax TIF generated by the additional acreage, in a few years we will have enough money to build an interchange at the bottom of Two-Mile Hill,” said Commissioner Orphy Klempa.

He said commissioners were inspired by legislation introduced this year by Sen. Bob Beach, D-Monongalia, to expand the TIF District at University Town Center along Interstate 79 in his county and build a second interchange there.

Ohio County commissioners decided similar legislation was needed to benefit The Highlands project.

SB 540 was introduced March 15 by Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, and co-sponsored by Sens. Larry Edgell, D-Wetzel; Robert “Rocky” Fitzsimmons, D-Ohio; Jack Yost, D-Brooke; and Beach.

It passed the Government Organization Committee in the Senate on Wednesday and is now before the Finance Committee. Beach’s original bill, SB 125, already has passed the Senate, and Klempa expects both measures could be merged into one when considered in the House.

“We’re just trying to get this interchange built,” Klempa said. “The state can’t afford to help us … and you know help isn’t going to come from the federal government.”

Ohio County Commissioner Tim McCormick said the expected cost to the county to build the interchange is $15 million to $20 million.

“The difference is we’re a county trying to do an interchange, and that’s quite unique,” he said. “We’ve been told by both state and federal agencies they have no money available. But we will be working with them to make this a reality.”

Fitzsimmons noted the state already has invested $50 million in TIF funds at The Highlands – including $35 million for the development and another $15 million to build the first interchange there. He added that The Highlands has thus far generated $67 million in sales taxes for the state since Cabela’s opened in August 2004.

“It’s a good investment,” Fitzsimmons said of expanding the TIF district there. “I think the answer is clear.”

Ohio County commissioners can help their cause by providing data and promoting their cause with the office of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, Kessler added.

“If they can get the financial data to make sense, they have a good chance,” he said.