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Tax Abatements Top City Council Candidate Forum

A Columbus Council candidate forum in October 2019. From left: Elizabeth Brown, Rob Dorans, Shayla Favor, Joe Motil, moderator Walker Evans, Emmanuel Remy, Scott Singratsomboune and Tiffany White.
Nick Evans
From Left: City Councilmembers Elizabeth Brown, Rob Dorans and Shayla Favor, challenger Joe Motil, moderator Walker Evans, Councilmember Emmanuel Remy, challengers Scott Singratsomboune and Tiffany White.

City Council candidates clashed over tax abatements at a Columbus Metropolitan Club forum on Wednesday. Incumbents defend the idea, but challengers see plenty to criticize.

The city often trades property tax breaks for promises of new jobs. Current council members took steps last year to institute a regular review of the policy and minimum salary requirements. Still, challengers like North Central area commissioner Tiffany White argue those companies don't always deliver on those promises.

“I guess my bigger concern is that if we’re the fastest growing city, you’re going to come here regardless. You’re going to set up shop regardless. You’re going to move here for the job opportunities,” White said.

Fellow challenger Scott Singratsomboune argues, “When we give tax abatements that are worth tens of millions of dollars, we reduce school funding by tens of millions of dollars and Columbus city schools have received Ds and Fs on their state report cards as far back as you can go."

Joe Motil, a long-time opponent of the policy, has made eliminating tax abatements a central pitch of his campaign. Like White and Singratsomboune, he argues many developers or employers would come to Columbus anyway, and the tax breaks take away from badly needed school funding.

However incumbent councilmembers pushed back. They argued incentives are an important tool for driving investment in the city. 

“I am not satisfied to say that let’s just sit back and it will happen anyway,” Councilmember Elizabeth Brown says of challengers’ more hands off approach. “I think that is a recipe for disaster going forward.”

Fellow councilmember Emmanuel Remy acknowledges some business don’t hold up their end of the bargain. But he argues the city is keeping tabs on them.

“We’re not done,” he says. “We’re going to continue to look at this. But we have to look at what we have to compete regionally and nationally.”

In addition to property tax breaks, the candidates tangled over the ballooning development costs associated with the new Columbus Crew stadium, and how to address affordable housing. Singratsomboune tied the two issues together.

“The most affordable housing in Columbus is at Nationwide Arena—zero dollars rent. And at what will be the new Crew stadium—$10 rent,” he says. “I have a problem with that.”

Another challenger, Lilliana Rivera Baiman couldn’t attend the afternoon panel because of work. She criticized the forum’s timing arguing.

“The ability to attend an upscale lunch for three hours in the middle of the day on Wednesday is the rare exception for most of Columbus, not the rule,” she said.

Baiman says she asked to send a surrogate in her place, but the Columbus Metropolitan Club turned her down.

Nick Evans was a reporter at WOSU's 89.7 NPR News. He spent four years in Tallahassee, Florida covering state government before joining the team at WOSU.