Meade County voters have put an end to their TIF tiff with a resounding No. Voters rejected the Meade County Commission’s proposal to fund construction of a bypass road east of Sturgis with tax increment finance dollars 25.5% to 74.5%. That’s 853 Yes votes, 2,493 No votes, for a measly 21.6% voter turnout.
Supporters said the TIF funding would allow Meade County to pave this new road right away. Commissioners have said they are committed to building the Fort Meade bypass, connecting I-90 Exit 37 and the Buffalo Chip campground with or without the TIF; given last night’s vote, it just may stay in gravel longer.
The Meade County School Board, the Sturgis City Council, and the Sturgis Chamber of Commerce all opposed the TIF, as it would deprive other taxing entities of increased tax revenue in the sprawling TIF district by locking those dollars into paying off road costs.
Meade County Taxpayers for Responsible Government referred the TIF to a public vote. They celebrate their victory with a press release contending that this big nay is a rejection of the proposed road project itself and TIFs in general:
Meade County Commissioners wanted to create what is possibly the largest TIF district in the country to pay for a poorly planned road project and voters overwhelmingly rejected their plans. This vote was not just a vote on the irresponsible and misdirected TIFD; this vote is mandate against the Bypass Road and this method of financing for county general services.
The fatal flaws with the TIFD and the Bypass Road are that they were not driven by new private development and did not involve the planning for utilities and services a developer would need for new construction. If there was a specific plan for economic growth, the developer would have had to provide specific project information before a TIFD was created and there might have been a different result.
We knew from the beginning that this issue wasn’t just about a few private landowners angry that the county wanted to bulldoze a truck bypass through their quiet rural neighborhood. Meade County citizens were upset with the Commissioners heavy-handedness to rush the project through without considering all of the impacts and costs [Meade County Taxpayers for Responsible Government, press release, 2015.03.04].
TIF opponents may have a chance to test their mandate soon. Before yesterday’s vote was finished, Meade County Commission Alan Aker posted to Facebook that the Meade County Commission now has before it “a proposal from a developer to create a TIFD for a housing development along Elk Creek. The project would include replacing a deficient county bridge, paving about a half mile of gravel road on the county maintenance list, and paving roads internal to the subdivision.”
And for more election fun, residents around the Buffalo Chip Campground have petitioned to incorporate the Chip as a town of its own. Last Friday, the Meade County Commission approved the petition and set an election date of May 7. The campground says the proposal will promote economic development… which is likely code for “allow the Buffalo Chip bosses to collect sales tax to boost their own projects.” The City of Sturgis, which may have an eye on annexing the campground for its own sales tax purposes, may sue to block the election, contending that the dozens of residents Buffalo Chip claims to have don’t really live there and thus are not eligible to petition for townhood, let alone vote. If the petition stands, only residents of the Chip will be able to vote.