Mega-development in Ross Twp. awaits county commission approval

Credit: Submitted photo

Credit: Submitted photo

Questions arise around community authority board; discussions continue

The Butler County commissioners are mulling the creation of a new Ross Community Authority for the 350-acre mixed use Burns Family Farm property and at least one commissioner opposes creating the financing vehicle.

The development is largely residential with 339 mid-level and estate homes, senior cottages and assisted living, 185 rental units and 124 units of “active adult housing.” A small portion, about 25 acres, would hold a hotel and neighborhood retail at the junction of U.S. 27 and Ohio 128.

The township trustees and Ross Schools support the project by Centerstone Development, but by law need the commissioners’ blessing to set up a new community authority to help finance it. Retired township administrator Bob Bass has been working as a consultant pulling the deal together for the trustees.

“It is a mixed-use development that lessens the financial stress on the township and the schools and insures a logical mixture of commercial and residential,” Bass said.

Ross Schools Superintendent Chad Konkle told the commissioners they support the project because it will not inundate their schools with students, the way it is designed.

The community authority would have the power to sell bonds to pay for infrastructure for the project and impose a 10-mill tax levy on new developments within the farm property. It is similar to the Liberty Community Authority formed for Liberty Center.

Commissioner Don Dixon asked about the ability of the Community Authority to hike sales taxes to help repay debt, as was part of the LCA master development plan. Financial Advisor Andy Brossart said the sales tax hiking authority is unlimited but that is not currently part of the funding equation.

“That hasn’t been contemplated right now in terms of a sales tax charge...,” Brossart said. “It’s not contemplated but it wouldn’t be anything significant mainly because its residential and multifamily. If anything it would be a very minor charge it really would not be designed to be the main repayment source for the debt.”

ExploreButler County officials balk at Liberty Center tax break, development plans

The township has already created a tax increment financing district (TIF) and joint economic development district (JEDD) in connection with this project and to prepare for the 1.3 million-square-foot Spooky Nook complex under construction in Hamilton that is expected to draw crowds from around the region.

Brossart told the Journal-News the new community authority would be responsible for repaying about $46.6 million in bonds for the infrastructure improvements, using these various development tools.

Commissioner Cindy Carpenter said she is worried about approving the formation of this new taxing body.

“As a board we haven’t previously done something that would cause other people in the private sector to have to pay more money,” Carpenter said. “If we look at taxes or something we have to approve, we look at that issue, We’ve never done anything where we saddle a business person in the future to have to pay additional money.”

Attorney Pat Woodside said if the new community authority is created it could not be enlarged to add more developments without their consent.

“The tax the NCA charges is going to be implemented but it’s not going to be implemented on anybody that’s not there or didn’t have a choice in the matter,” Woodside said.

Dixon has a number of issues with the plan, not the least of which is revenue estimates for Liberty Center didn’t materialize and now the LCA is planning to refinance the bonds and loans so it can handle the debt payments. He said he estimates on the success of a project are always inflated and that impacts the ability to repay debt. Plu,s there is no taxpayer control over these un-elected boards.

“I’m one commissioner that won’t vote for it and raise those people’s sales tax rate and real estate rates, I’m not going to do it,” Dixon told the Journal-News. “I don’t believe their numbers, their numbers weren’t right at Liberty Center, I have no reason to believe it’s any different here.”

Unlike Liberty Center, the commissioners would not appoint any of the new board’s members, the township trustees and school board would have a total of four representatives on the authority and the developer would have some. The county also would not have an financial liability if it fails.

Commissioner T.C. Rogers said he is not going to compare this issue to Liberty Center because that is all retail and commercial, and this one is mainly residential.

“I haven’t made a final decision yet but I think as I looked at the project it’s well thought out,” Rogers said. “Plus your township wants it, and your board of education wants it; if we were to turn it down we have to have a good reason.”

The project’s developer, Ron Coffman, told the commissioners if the new community authority (NCA) isn’t formed “I’m not going to commit financial suicide” because the cost of all the necessary infrastructure improvements is too high.

“It won’t work financially at the current price the seller is asking for the property,” Coffman said. “If it’s not going to have the NCA I’m sorry I’m out, I can’t make it work.”

The commissioners agreed to meet with him privately to further discuss the project.

Credit: Submitted photo

Credit: Submitted photo

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