WHEELING - A bill allowing Ohio County to use future sales tax revenue from The Highlands to fund a second interchange at the retail development took a major step toward becoming law Wednesday.
The bill cleared the House of Delegates' Finance Committee on Wednesday after previously passing in the Senate. It should get its first reading on the House floor today, in time for delegates to cast a final vote on the bill before the regular session ends at midnight Saturday.
The measure would expand the current 300-acre tax increment financing district at The Highlands to 500 acres. A portion of the sales tax dollars generated in the TIF district stay with the Ohio County Development Authority, and officials hope expanding the district will eventually provide enough money to pay for construction of the new Interstate 70 interchange.
Ohio County Commissioner Orphy Klempa - a former state senator - praised the efforts of Sen. Rocky Fitzsimmons, D-Wheeling, the bill's lead sponsor, and Delegate Erikka Storch, R-Ohio, who he said were instrumental in keeping the bill moving through the House.
"I'm elated. ... I'm really excited," Klempa said.
Klempa said the state doesn't have the money to fund projects like a second interchange at The Highlands, which would cost an estimated $40 million, so commissioners had to find another way.
"The Division of Highways challenged us about a year ago. If we're going to do things like this, we've got to come up with some interesting ways to finance these projects other than just going to the state and asking them to build," Klempa said.
The 200 additional acres added to the TIF district are undeveloped, so the measure wouldn't impact sales tax revenue currently flowing to the state.
"We have to develop those (acres) to generate sales tax so that we can sell bonds," Klempa said.
According to Klempa, the Ohio County Development Authority is working hard to secure "two huge tenants" for The Highlands that he believes could generate enough revenue by themselves to get the project started.
"They're that big," he said, adding a second interchange is crucial for future growth at the development.
"I've had numerous people tell me that a lot of people just will not travel to The Highlands because they do not like Two-Mile Hill," he said.
The TIF district bill is Senate Bill 439.