Lockwood economic district gains support in county hearing

Originally published in the Yellowstone County News print edition 11/11/16 – by Evelyn Pyburn

BILLINGS — A number of people spoke in support, and none in opposition, to the creation of a Targeted Economic Development District (TEDD), the first hearing for which was held before Yellowstone County Commissioners on Tuesday.

Commissioners voted 2-1 to advance the process to a second required hearing set for Tuesday, Nov. 22. Commissioner Jim Reno maintained his opposition to the TEDD in voting against the second hearing. Commissioners John Ostlund and Robyn Driscoll supported it. Commissioners will make their final determination at the second hearing, which will be held at 9:30 a.m. at the county courthouse.

The purpose of the TEDD, explained Steve Arveschoug, Director of the Big Sky Economic Development District (EDA), is to give the community “a very important tool for economic development.” EDA has been the sponsor of the process to establish the TEDD in Lockwood in order to fund the infrastructure needs of a proposed industrial park. To have a “ready – to- go” industrial park “will put Yellowstone County in a greater position to help the county to grow and develop industry,” he said.

Pointing out that other communities, such as Williston, N.D., Great Falls and Shelby have industrial parks, Arveschoug said, “We want to be in a position to have the same message,” when trying to recruit companies to Yellowstone County. He underscored that the community is in competition with those communities.

Besides growth, many of the other commentators emphasized the safety measures the TEDD could help fund. Lockwood Fire Chief John Staley said support for the TEDD was a “no brainer.”

“The lack of sidewalks influence the safety of children,” he said.

Woody Woods a member of the Lockwood Steering Committee and the Lockwood Pedestrian Safety Committee, presented letters of endorsement from each of those organizations.

A TEDD is a tax increment finance district, which will re-direct increased property tax revenues to building infrastructure within the boundaries of the TEDD. The TEDD will be one of three sources of revenue which will be relied upon to develop the industrial park, said Arveschoug. Private investment will also be necessary as will grants and loans. No one revenue source will be enough to provide the streets, sidewalks, water, sewer, rail spur, fiber and power the development will need, said Arveschoug.The study area that was scrutinized during the development of a comprehensive plan involved 1,850 acres in the northwest quadrant of the intersection of Johnson Lane and Interstate 90. Of that area, 570 acres are included in the proposed TEDD. It is an area of primarily agricultural use with some industrial sites. It includes the proposed site of a private industrial park development, the Trailhead Commerce Park, and involves properties of eleven owners.Coulson Road passes through the area, as does the BNSF railroad. Arveschoug said that development was focused along Coulson Road and the railroad. Only about 293 acres within the park could actually be developed. The TEDD calls for the appointment of an advisory board, made up predominantly of Lockwood residents and civic representatives. The ultimate decision -makers would be the Board of County Commissioners.Upon his questioning, Reno was informed that state law is “silent” in regard to what should be paid in administrative fees.

Reno has opposed the TEDD because of the lost revenue to the school district and because he believes economic growth will come as a natural consequence of building the Billings Bypass connecting Lockwood and the Heights.

Without the TEDD and an industrial park there might be some economic growth in the area, but “I think it would be marginal growth,” said Arveschoug, “Just sitting at the status quo is not our best moving-forward position.”

Reno asked Vu Pham, who testified in support of the TEDD on behalf of the company building the Trailhead Industrial Park, whether his company would prefer receiving the infrastructure benefits of the TEDD or the tax abatement incentive the county often confers upon new development. Pham said that he viewed the tax abatement as a short term benefit, and his company is opting for the long-term benefits of the TEDD. Pham said his company has no plans to request a tax abatement incentive.

Reno asked for data before the next hearing, regarding what percentage of revenue, the TEDD would draw from the building of additional office space for judges in the county and for the road department.

The Comprehensive Plan for the TEDD, which was developed by Sanderson Stewart Engineers, was also before the commissioners for approval prior to the public hearing. It was unanimously approved.

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