4 intelligent people, 3 of them respected journalists with decades of professional experience. We all looked at the ordinances before the Enquirer published my editorial and we all got it wrong.
But if that’s the case, maybe the problem isn’t us. If there’s anything I’ve learned from Katherine Durack’s attention to the Plain Language Act of 2010, it’s the importance of how documents are worded.
Let’s take a look at the standard language that appears in the summary section of City Council Online of a typical Community Reinvestment Area Tax Exemption. These come through Council on a regular basis.
ORDINANCE submitted by Harry Black, City Manager, on 12/17/2014, approving and authorizing the City Manager to execute a Community Reinvestment Area LEED Tax Exemption Agreement with Gaslight Gardens, LLC, thereby authorizing a 15-year tax exemption for 100% of the value of the improvements made to real property located at 3224, 3250, 3234, 3238, 3240, 3242, and 3246 Whitfield Avenue in Cincinnati in connection with the construction of two apartment buildings totaling 117 residential units locat…
Notice the details available without even clicking through to look at the complete text of the ordinance: the name of the developer, time period of the exemption, percentage of exemption and exactly what is being developed.
Tax Increment Financing Districts are much more rare. In the year I’d been looking at City Council votes, I’d never seen one before and probably would have missed this one altogether if a wonky friend hadn’t sent me an email. Here’s the language included in the summary of this one:
ORDINANCE (EMERGENCY) submitted by Harry Black, City Manager, on 12/15/2014, declaring improvements to the real property located at 644 Linn Street, 801 W. Eighth Street, and 695 Gest Street in Queensgate to be a public purpose and exempt from real property taxation for a period of time.
What’s fascinating here is the complete and utter lack of detail. The words “Tax Increment Financing” never even appear in the summary. Weeks after the vote, Council staff still couldn’t specify if this was a District or a Project. The name of the TIF doesn’t appear until page 2 of the full ordinance: Gateway West. The Ordinance never names the owner of the property, although my notes show it to be Neyer Properties (not to be confused with Al. Neyer LLC). There is no specified purpose. No specified time period. And yet it was an emergency to get this passed.
A few simple changes in the language of the Tax Increment Financing votes would go a long way to making it easier for the community to understand. As it stands now, the wording gives the impression that the administration is being purposely obtuse, trying to slip ‘mystery giveaways’ onto the agenda at the last minute and avoid public scrutiny.