2012 NEWSMAKER: Council Dem Mahern plays role of antagonist

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City-County Council Vice President Brian Mahern emerged as the chief foe of Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard’s redevelopment agenda.

Mahern began to question the use of tax-increment financing districts, just as Ballard’s administration wanted to expand the downtown TIF’s boundaries to include the site of the Massachusetts Avenue fire station.

Brian Mahern Mahern

Ballard saw the TIF expansion as essential to redeveloping that site, as well as Flaherty & Collins’ Block 400 mixed-use project, anchored by a Marsh grocery store, in the northwest quadrant of downtown.

But those projects were stuck in limbo last summer as Mahern tried to push through a new set of policies around TIF districts.

Mahern opposes Ballard’s plans to expand and create new TIF districts because he thinks they will choke off revenue and services to neighborhoods that aren’t in the renewal spotlight. (TIF districts capture new real estate tax revenue to benefit developments within their boundaries.)

“It’s not something you immediately run up and break the glass and use,” he said. “It has long-term implications.”

Mahern created a TIF study commission, chaired by fellow Democrat Steve Talley, which issued a bevy of recommendations limiting TIFs. Among the proposed policies was creating an end date for the downtown TIF and requiring a cost-benefit analysis for new TIFs.

Ballard opposed the new policies, and the downtown TIF expansion became a political bargaining chip.

Talley, also chairman of the Metropolitan and Economic Development Committee, delayed a vote for several months while the summer study commission completed its work.

Ballard’s deputies began complaining in August, as it looked like Talley might put off the vote several more months. Talley said he wanted time for the council to consider a formal proposal on the TIF policy suggestions.

In the end, it was other Democrats who broke the stalemate. Democratic members of the council’s economic development committee worked around Talley to hold a vote on the downtown TIF. When the deal finally reached the full council on Oct. 1, it passed by a wide margin, 25-2.

Democratic Councilor Vop Osili pushed through the TIF expansion after striking a deal with Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Deron Kintner, in which $1.5 million of the district’s revenue will be available to local residents for job training. Another $2 million will be set aside for microloans.•

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