County oks zone rankings

Published 7:56 am Thursday, March 8, 2018

The Mower County Board of Commissioners followed the recommendation of the city of Austin, the Development Corporation of Austin and the Austin Housing and Redevelopment Authority, in ranking a census tract encompassing downtown Austin as its priority for an Opportunity Zone designation.

Members unanimously approved the ranking.

Opportunity Zones would be created to attract private investment into distressed areas. The state has 250 census tracts that qualify for the zone designation and it is estimated that about half of those will actually be designed.

Email newsletter signup

Three of the 250 are located in Austin. If approved, they stay in place until 2026.

The zones would be established as part of the new Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. According to John Garry, executive director of the Development Corporation of Austin, the tax benefits can attract new investment that will stimulate growth and create jobs.

Garry said the priority tract is the poorest local tract compared to the other two. The percent of income compared to the state median family income and poverty level are both low. The tract is bordered by Interstate 90 on the north and 29th Avenue on the south.

Garry emphasized that benefit of the zone would come to those who reinvest their capital gains into the property – not the business that might build in the area.

Still, Garry said, there has been little discussion about the zones. County Coordinator Craig Oscarson echoed the thought. He said county coordinators had only heard about the zones at a recent conference. All officials have put themselves on a fast track to apply although no one could be sure of the actual benefit until the zones are designated. Garry said even the percentages used for application have changed over the course of a few days.

All the county could do was prioritize the three properties. The properties’ size are all determined by the U.S. Census and cannot be changed, Garry said.

“What this is, is an extra tool in the economic development took kit,” Oscarson said.

“It could be something that tips the scales” in favor of development, said Commissioner Tim Gabrielson.

“I can’t see a negative,” agreed fellow commissioner Polly Glynn. “It’s just another tool” in addition to tax abatements and other incentives.

In other business Tuesday, commissioners:

Goodbyes: Noted the retirement of Bob Roche, who has been the jail administrator for 31 years; and said goodbye to Christina Blake, a social worker who has been on the job for 21 years and will soon leave to take another position.