County Board candidates address housing

Published 6:12 pm Friday, March 19, 2021

For the second article of the Herald’s question and answer series between Mower County Board of Commissioners – District 1 candidates Tim Duren and John Mueller, we asked the candidates the following questions: Do you support the County’s Housing Tax Abatement in its current format? What steps would you like to see the County take to encourage housing development in Mower County?

Here are their responses.

John Mueller

John Mueller

Upon hearing people talk about the Mower County Tax Abatement Program a few years ago, I was leaning toward being opposed to it, but admittedly I knew very little about it. I have since learned more about the program through research and conversation. The state legislature authorized housing tax abatements for entities with taxing authorities for the purpose of allowing them to encourage the construction of housing in their community.

Mower County is experiencing a housing shortage and has been for some time. In 2016, Mower County began a tax abatement program to address that shortage by encouraging the construction of single and multi-family homes. Some cities and townships in Mower County did the same and since then, more than 100 single-family homes have been built as well as several multi-unit projects, utilizing the Tax Abatement Program.

The current format of tax abatement offered by Mower County seems appropriate. There is an application process and the project must qualify. The construction has to begin within a year of the application being approved and the tax abatement expires after five years. During those five years, the property owner is still responsible for the tax on at least the value of the property prior to any improvements.

After the abatement ends, the County realizes the full tax of the property value. The eventual benefit to the county is that this new construction will generate tax for decades to come and it also adds to the total number of homes or housing units and overall county value. The current Mower County Housing Tax Abatement program expires at the end of 2022. I suspect sometime in 2022 the county board will review and evaluate the program and then determine if it should be renewed.

I think encouraging the addition of homes goes hand-in-hand with the growth of businesses. The more residents there are in Mower County, the more appealing Mower County is to expanding or new businesses. The more growing and new businesses we have, the more need we have for housing for the workforce. Quite honestly, we can’t have one without the other, and both are beneficial to the county as a whole.  I would like to see the county continue to take an active role in encouraging housing development. I would like to see the Tax Abatement Program reviewed and evaluated in 2022 and considered for renewal. I would want to talk to residents to hear their feedback on that program and other ideas to encourage housing development in Mower County. I would also like to hear from business operators if they think the housing tax abatement helps keep or bring a workforce to Mower County. I would also be interested to learn about new or other programs that encourage housing development. I am hoping that on April 13, the voters of District 1 give me the opportunity to be involved in the future growth of Mower County.

Tim Duren

Tim Duren

I do support the county’s tax abatement program. It offers an incentive for people to build single and multi-family dwelling homes in Mower County by abating any increase in their county real estate taxes for a period of five years. When we talk about growth in our community, be it attracting new residents or new businesses, having choices in affordable and comfortable housing is at the center of that decision-making process. For the county to be able to incentivize that process is a win-win situation and displays the desire to seek ways to continually grow our county.

I have heard over the years that there are gaps in our housing market that need to be addressed to be able to offer our citizens what they need, not only for our present population, but to those who desire to come here. I would want the board to make sure that all the needs of the community are identified. I would like to address why the gaps remain and find solutions so that all who seek housing will be successful. If there are factors beyond the board’s control that affect housing development, we need to come up with creative ways to work around them as the tax abatement program has done. I believe that a good housing market and growth in our retail sector are related. I believe one affects the other. And while the County and City are encouraging businesses to come to Austin, having a healthy housing market should be a priority. As your elected official, I would ask the tough questions and work for you to see that it is.

See the March 13, 2021, issue of the Austin Daily Herald for the first article of the question and answer series.