Public Hearing Set On Expansion Of Highlands TIF Area

WHEELING – Ohio County commissioners have submitted an application to the West Virginia Economic Development Office seeking to expand the Tax Increment Financing district at The Highlands, and approval of the application could provide them the means to fund a second exit from the property to Interstate 70.

The public is invited to learn more about the commission’s plans at hearing set for 6 p.m. Thursday in the commission office at the City-County Building, 1500 Chapline St., Wheeling. The public hearing is required as part of the application process through the state Economic Development Office, according to state Sen. Robert “Rocky” Fitzsimmons, D-Ohio.

Fitzsimmons introduced a bill to increase the land encompassed by the Fort Henry economic opportunity development project district from 300 to 500 acres. A portion of the sales tax dollars generated in the TIF district would stay with the Ohio County Development Authority, which would use the funds to pay for construction of a second interchange there.

Ohio County officials met with Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin this week to discuss the interchange.

The proposal sits before the Senate Finance Committee, and Fitzsimmons said chairman Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, is awaiting the state Economic Development Office to approve Ohio County’s TIF expansion application before advancing the bill.

“We are anxiously awaiting the determination by that office,” Fitzsimmons said. “I am optimistic. It seems like the plan was well-received by the governor.”

Legislation to expand the TIF District at The Highlands also was introduced in 2013, but there was not enough time for it to proceed through the process during the regular legislative session last year, according to Commissioner Randy Wharton, who also serves as president of the Ohio County Development Authority. State lawmakers, though, did pass similar legislation to expand the TIF District at the University Town Center in Monongalia County.

Secretary of Transportation Paul Mattox has suggested county commissions across the state find innovative ways to pay for road projects themselves as the state tightens its infrastructure budget.

“They are encouraging us to find unique ways of funding rather than just coming to them with our hands out, and asking, ‘Do this for us,'” Wharton said. “(Mattox) said counties should look to expand into vacant land and and find tenants for these properties that pay sales tax. That’s the idea they planted in our heads, and that’s exactly what we are going to do. I think we are going to receive some favorable action. … As we go into future, it’s going to be very important that local elected officials come up with innovative ways to fund things.”

The measure is Senate Bill 439.