County, school board, city hoping to build on tax abatement successes

Published 6:33 pm Tuesday, November 1, 2022

By Linda J. Baier

A program that provides incentives for new housing and encourages replacement of dilapidated housing in Austin and Mower County is looking to be extended at all levels in Mower County.

The Austin City Council has already approved the renewal of the program, which offers a five-year property tax abatement. The Austin School District has it as an action item for their Nov. 14 meeting, and the Mower County Board of Commissioners discussed this at their October work session and will be taking action in the next few weeks. The incentive was introduced as a pilot in 2016, and is set to expire Dec. 31.

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“Increasing housing is an important issue in the community,” said Council Member Jason Baskin. “It is a good program.”

Under the program, anyone who proposes to build a single-family home or multi-family apartment complexes can apply for up to 100% of their property taxes to be abated (forgiven) for five years. Rules stipulate property must be in the jurisdiction’s boundaries and zoned properly, owners cannot have received any other local financial assistance, current property taxes must be paid in full, and approvals may need to be obtained prior to the start of construction, depending on the entity.

Since its inception, 235 new units of housing have been added at an estimated value of $61 million county wide, with $23.9 million of that in Austin alone.

All applications are considered on a first-come, first serve basis. The county receives the initial application and then it is shared to the other two applicable entities for their approvals. Public hearings are required by all jurisdictions and it is possible to receive the abatements from one or all of the entities.

“The program has worked incredibly well with applications coming into the city of Austin. We have struggled with applications from the smaller towns that don’t individually participate in the tax abatement program or townships,” said County Administrator Trish Harren. “So the information has not always gotten out to people who are building a new home in a timely manner. Because the county requires that construction has not begun in order to be eligible, there are a number of homeowners that were not able to take part in the program”.

If Mower County chooses to extend the program they may make some changes, including the requirement for construction not to have begun prior to approval.

“So there is no real need to prove whether construction has begun or not prior to approval. Having this as a requirement has caused a number of applications to be screened out of eligibility”, said Harren. “Additionally, it takes time to send out assessor staff to confirm no new construction before each board approval.”

The abatement is based on the new value that is added as of Jan. 2 of each year. This is regardless of when construction started.

The cities of Adams, LeRoy/Ostrander, Rose Creek, Clayton Township, Lyle Township, LeRoy/Ostrander and Southland school districts have also participated in the program since the beginning. The LeRoy City Council has not discussed renewing the program as of yet, but City Clerk-Treasurer Patty White said she thinks they will renew it.

“The City of LeRoy has many nice buildable lots available.” White said. “An individual could choose LeRoy to build their dream home, all while accessing the benefit of the property tax abatement program.”

LeRoy has benefited from the program with the building of four new single-family homes. Another proposed single-family home was approved, but the increase in construction costs kept it from moving forward. Other participating jurisdictions could not be reached for comment.

Residents of Austin and Mower County can find applications and instructions for applying for this program online at the City of Austin, Mower County and Austin School District 492 websites.