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City of Norfolk has a well-stocked tool box

April 24, 2018 GMT

Tax-increment financing is one many first think of when it comes to the topic of how a city can help spur economic development within its borders.

But as a recent Daily News article by Mike Buhler revealed, there’s a smorgasbord of tools readily available — and Norfolk officials are striving to make good use of them.

The creation of a sewer connection district, for example, is not something many Norfolkans may be familiar with. Traditional sewer districts automatically bill landowners by the foot of sewer utility once installed by a city. But in a sewer connection district, the landowner does not pay until he or she chooses to connect to the sewer. That might not happen for several years if an existing stand-alone septic system is working adequately.

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Norfolk officials initially chose to use a sewer connection district for a utility extension project in the northwest part of the community because it seemed like the best choice in dealing with both existing properties and land slated for development.

It’s one example of the kind of flexibility that can be employed when a community has a choice of development tools at its disposal. Not everything has to be a one-size-fits-all kind of approach.

As city engineer Steven Rames pointed out in the Daily News article, Norfolk relies heavily on its comprehensive development plan as well as master 10-year plans for both water and sewer development. But that’s just the beginning.

Norfolk also can consider use of annexation to help foster development, paving districts, water districts and sewer districts. Plus, extraterritorial jurisdiction, the platting process, subdivision standards, planned developments and conditional-use permits, among others.

And then, of course, there’s still tax-increment financing as a possible tool, too.

For as much as it has been used or talked about in recent years, it’s still often misunderstood. It allows for the additional property tax revenue generated by development to be temporarily used to help offset infrastructure costs. Often, without that financial assistance, the property in question would never be developed, eliminating the possibility of higher property tax revenue.

“It’s a matter of taking property that does not generate a lot of property-tax revenue and turning it into a project or an area that does generate property-tax revenue,” said Andy Colvin, Norfolk’s economic development director.

As any handyman knows, a well-stocked tool box is essential. The same is true for a community looking to grow and prosper.

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