Councilor: $100M deal hanging on Fishers tax hike

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A private company is weighing a $100 million investment in Fishers, Town Council member Scott Faultless said Monday, but the project depends on adopting a 1-percent food-and-beverage tax that’s still the subject of heated debate.

The unidentified economic-development deal would require about $25 million in infrastructure improvements the town otherwise couldn’t afford, Faultless said after a public hearing on the proposed levy. He supports the measure, given what’s at stake.   

“One thing is certain,” he told the council and an audience of about two dozen. “If we don’t pass this, that deal goes away.”

State lawmakers gave Fishers permission to impose the tax this year, as long as the town uses the revenue to reduce property taxes or fund economic development. The tax is expected to generate about $1 million a year, at least to start.

If applied to property tax bills, that’s enough to save homeowners about $35 a year and free up an estimated $250,000 for the cash-strapped Hamilton Southeastern Schools, council President John Weingardt said during his post-hearing remarks.

Faultless made the economic development case, citing a missed opportunity in 2012, when the General Assembly turned down an earlier request to adopt the tax. At the time, the town had a different—but equally large—project in the pipeline. It fell apart when legislators said no.

Freshman council member Renee Cox, meanwhile, opposes the current proposal, saying there have to be other ways to fund economic development.

“Increasing taxes is not good for Fishers,” said Cox, who also is a candidate for mayor.

But she was one of six Fishers councilors who signed a 2012 letter asking state lawmakers for permission to impose the levy. The missive cited an unexpected bill for emergency dispatch services and the "very special, time-sensitive economic and community development opportunity" that Faultless said the town lost.

Cox said she knows more now than she did then.

Just six people took to the podium during Monday's hearing Monday. About 15 shared their thoughts at a special meeting on the subject last week. (Interestingly enough, hundreds more residents showed up when the town was talking about taking over trash collection.

Hamilton County was one of six counties that imposed a 1-percent food-and-beverage tax years ago as part of a regional deal to held build Lucas Oil Stadium. Half of that revenue is transferred to Marion County’s Capital Improvement Board, which owns the stadium.

At the time, municipalities could choose to institute an additional 1-percent tax for their own use. Officials in Carmel, Noblesville and Westfield seized the opportunity, but Fishers said no.

Now the fast-growing suburb is embarking on an ambitious—and expensive—downtown redevelopment plan intended to spur private investment. The town turned over publicly owned land and agreed to pay for a parking garage at The Depot, a $42 million mixed-use project under construction along 116th Street, for example, and its redevelopment commission has been buying and bundling private property to make it more attractive to developers.

Council members are expected to vote on the food-and-beverage tax next month.

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