Saving some TIF monies prudent, mayor notes

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The Columbia Falls City Council Monday night discussed options for spending its tax increment finance monies, with one of the most attractive options possibly being just to save it for a bigger project.

The city has about $194,000 in its TIF account. A tax increment financing district capitalizes on growth by setting aside the additional taxes on that growth and investing them in urban renewal projects.

Mayor Don Barnhart said he endorsed small projects, like putting in irrigation at the flower garden on South Nucleus and Highway 2 that’s been there for decades; and he liked the idea of super high speed Internet on streets like Nucleus Avenue, but having funds available for a greater opportunity if it came along was also prudent.

Council agreed and city manager Susan Nicosia noted that $194,000 doesn’t really go that far. For example, the city used TIF monies last year to fix sidewalks adjacent to the Nord Building — a project that cost more than expected after voids were found under the sidewalks. TIF monies wee also used to pave an alley behind businesses on Nucleus. That project also cost more than expected after water and gas lines were found just under the dirt.

On the high speed Internet front, Nicosia is meeting with MontanaSky representatives later this week.

MontanaSky would like to run fiber optic cable from a line adjacent to the Burlington Northern Santa Fe tracks down Nucleus if it could secure a low or no interest loan from the city.

In other news:

• Council looked at a proposal by CGI Communications to create a new promotional video series for the city. If the city decided to go with the company, the city would incur no cost, but instead, businesses would sponsor the page by buying their own videos. There were a couple of problems, however. The video cost for businesses was about $900 each and the city wouldn’t retain copyright of the footage. In addition, the video would be a link on the website, not embedded into the page.

Cascade County had used CGI as had Rock Springs in Wyoming.

In that vein, city councilwoman Jenny Lovering suggested the city also look at overhauling its website at some point. The current site is very basic and has a lot of white space, she noted.

• Council discussed the upcoming election and whether to have a polling place or do a mail-in ballot. If the city decides to go with a resort tax, it will likely go with a mail-in ballot, to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to vote. The last election cost the city about $4,600 and only about 650 people voted — a turnout of just 22 percent. Up for re-election are councilmen Fisher, John Piper and Doug Karper.

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