College OKs building tax breaks

By RICHARD LUKEN
Register Reporter

Trustees at Allen County Community College have agreed to sign on with Iola’s planned extension of a neighborhood revitalization grant.
Trustees discussed at their regular meeting Thursday the program’s merits and disadvantages before voting 4-0 — with Trustee Larry Manes abstaining and Spencer Ambler absent — to endorse the program.
Through the revitalization project, residents in certain segments of Iola are eligible to improve their properties without immediately paying higher property taxes.
A property’s appraised value must be increased at least $5,000 to be eligible. A tax abatement follows a schedule, with property owners paying no added taxes for the first six years. The abatement decreases by 20 percent each year through years seven through 10. On the 11th year, the rebate ends and the property tax is paid on the full appraised value.
Jeff Bauer, Iola’s code enforcement officer, was on hand to explain the mechanics of the program and to ask for the college’s support.
The program was initiated three years ago and is set to expire at the end of the month. The new extension will run another three years, and will be expanded to encompass land between Spruce and Garfield Streets, Bauer said.
The benefits of the program are twofold, Bauer said. It serves as an economic development tool — commercial properties are eligible as well — and is as an incentive for property owners to improve their blighted holdings.
Maness said he was troubled with the program in several areas.
“I have a problem with saying we’re going to put a tax abatement on a piece of ground without knowing who is going to come in and what they’ll do with the property,” Manes said.
Manes noted he would favor a program that looked at potential development programs on a case-by-case basis.
“I’m just big on fair and equal treatment,” Manes said, adding that a property owner could build anew and qualify for a tax abatement in one part of town, but not another. He also queried Bauer on hopes for economic development in areas east of Kentucky Street. Such development has yet to occur, he said.
“First, we were told this was for economic development,” Manes said. “Now we’re being told that this is ‘anti-blight.’ Which is it?”
“I think it’s both,” responded Trustee Jim Talkington.
“You can’t go more than two or three blocks in almost any neighborhood without seeing a blighted house,” added Trustee Harvey Rogers. “I think Jeff’s doing what he can to see properties in town are improved.”
If a blighted house were improved, it would also positively affect the values of adjoining properties in every direction, Rogers noted.
Bauer added that language within the program was “being cleaned up” regarding property owners outside the revitalization zones who otherwise might quality for the program. Approving such applications previously raised the ire of Allen County commissioners.
“Some of the language in the initial program wasn’t specific enough,” Bauer said. “It’s been a learning process.”
In addition to the college, Allen County and USD 257 are being asked to join the abatement program again.

SEVERAL SUMMER projects will begin now that the spring 2009 semester has ended.
A bid from Day Construction, Iola, to remove deteriorating siding from the college’s mobile home at the ACCC farm was approved. Day’s bid of $10,248 was the lower of two received.
Trustees approved the bid, but not without some consternation, namely the price.
In the end, trustees agreed that the costs would be exacerbated if the home’s interior were to sustain damage because the siding failed further.
Trustees accepted a bid from Blockhouse Furnishings, Prairie Village, for a number of beds, dressers and desks for $9,158. The furniture will go into Horton and Winter halls, which are being refurbished over the summer. The Blockhouse bid was the only one received.
Trustees accepted a bid from Printer Connection, Inc., Roanoke, Texas, for a new printer for $10,725. The bid was the lowest of three.

THE COLLEGE also agreed to continue its self-funded athletic insurance program, which it has done for the past seven years. The program could cost as much as $58,160 — the college uses a stop-loss program in which catastrophic plans are funded through National Union Fire Insurance Co. of Pittsburgh.
Trustees also approved a number of language changes in its policies and procedures. Ryan Bilderback, adult education coordinator and Title III director, read through a number of the language changes before they were approved.
The resignations of Carlos Walker, assistant track coach; Nancy Andrade, assistant cheer and dance coach and admissions counselor; and Kimya Murrray, assistant women’s basketball coach and residence hall director; were accepted. Trustees also terminated the contract of Kenna Burns, administrative assistant for concurrent enrollment, and announced they would not renew the contract of Ann Birk, administrative assistant to the college’s paramedic program in New Strawn. The program is being pulled from New Strawn, ACCC President John Masterson noted. A contract was offered to Dean Dexter, coordinator of the paramedic program, through Dec. 31, at which time the current program ends.
Trustees also offered contracts through Sept. 30 to Bilderback and Constancio Gray, Hispanic Center coordinator. Both are being paid with Title III funds.