News From Terre Haute, Indiana

April 26, 2006

Pete Chalos: A community must invest in itself to improve itself

By Pete Chalos

This month, the Terre Haute City Council voted in favor of the proposed tax increment finance (TIF) district on Indiana 46, passing it 6-3. Council members Jim Chalos, Rich Dunkin, Chuck Miles, Todd Nation, Shelva Warner and Cliff Lambert voted for the resolution.

This evening, the Vigo County Redevelopment Commission is going to conduct a public hearing concerning the details of the resolution, outlining the specifics. Upon their confirmation, the resolution will go back to the Terre Haute City Council for adoption on May 11.

The decision our City Council made this month was an endorsement of the city’s long-standing economic policies. Those opposed to the resolution were proposing that we abandon the way our city, along with every modern city in America, currently does business in favor of uncharted waters. No alternative strategy for encouraging development has been proposed.

Without a plan, Terre Haute would have been going nowhere fast. Those opposed to the concept of tax increment incentives should bear the burden of coming up with something better. In the absence of a better plan, abandoning a policy that has brought so much development to the area can’t be justified.

Councilman Ryan Cummins has argued that a TIF district would result in a tax increase on property throughout the county. He could also argue that allocating no tax revenue to economic development would significantly reduce the tax burden on area property owners. Forgoing an investment in the future of our city isn’t going to save money. Instead, it will cause progress to halt and speed up the exodus of our citizens from Vigo County as they seek jobs elsewhere.

Our city will not experience progress without investing in the future. In order to experience job growth, an investment must be made. All there is to consider is whether or not the return on our investment will profit the taxpayers of Terre Haute and Vigo County.

It certainly will. More jobs means more spending and more tax revenue. The more people we have earning a decent wage in the Wabash Valley, the more people we will have shopping at existing stores and patronizing local businesses. That means more people buying cars, insurance, groceries and clothing. The more people we have earning a decent wage in our community, the more people we have paying property taxes, sales taxes and income taxes. That means more money for schools, roads and development.

Bob Baesler, owner of Baesler’s Market, spoke up in opposition to the proposed TIF district at a recent council meeting. His objection was that Terre Haute Realty paid for his new building and later improvements to the building without the assistance of a TIF agreement and he would like all future business and industry in the Wabash Valley to compete on a level playing field.

When creating a level playing field, it’s best to fill in the gaps rather than digging holes for everybody. The next time Bob Baesler wants to expand his store, I certainly hope the local government supports him in his effort with every available economic development tool.

Some in our community seem to have the attitude that those who already have a measure of success don’t need our support in their efforts to maximize the use of their properties. If we are going to water one plant, we should water all of them so they all have a chance to bloom. Who the investor happens to be should not be a consideration.

From the outset, the American government has supported private industry. Settlers were encouraged to claim land in new territories. Canals and railroads were built. Port systems were built. Our government has always invested in its people. It’s important that our government be involved in spurring private investment in our community. That’s what the government is for. Our tax dollars should be available for the purpose of creating jobs for our children and grandchildren right here in Terre Haute so they can stay and support their loved ones.

Pete Chalos, a longtime teacher, coach and public servant in Vigo County, was mayor of Terre Haute for 16 years. E-mail pchalos@netscape.com.