SAN ANGELO, TX — The Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone, or “TIRZ” (pronounced ‘Tears’), became the focus of the San Angelo City Council Tuesday. Inside the City of San Angelo, there is one TIRZ organized under the statutes of the State of Texas. The City, however, divided the TIRZ into a northern and southern TIRZ as dictated, as many allege, by the north-south divide in politics over a decade ago.
Property taxes collected from properties located inside the TIRZ are allocated into a special TIRZ fund, not the general funds of the county, city and school district. This money is used for renovating what was a blighted central business district. Del Velasquez, Director of Downtown San Angelo, Inc., a non-profit organization originally setup to push for the TIRZ, claimed the money from TIRZ was pivotable in the revitalization of Chadbourne and Oakes streets downtown.
About 30 percent of the downtown Chadbourne Street scape project is financed with primarily southern TIRZ money, Velasquez said. Also, property owners inside TIRZ can apply for grant up to $75,000 per property to recreate a nicer looking facade to each building.
Today, this north-south divide of the TIRZ is holding back about $2 million in funds held in the northern TIRZ account that could otherwise be directed to where those funds are most needed in the southern TIRZ. The north zone extends from roughly 3rd St. to 29th St. The 29th St. Walmart is located inside the northern TIRZ and supplies a large amount of the tax collected. The southern TIRZ extends from 3rd St. south to Avenue D along the Chadbourne/Oakes corridor. Many of the properties in the southern TIRZ are owned by non-profit organizations like churches or by government agencies. The City purchased both the former First Financial Bank building at Beauregard and Koenigheim and the former San Angelo Standard-Times building at Harris Ave. and Irving, taking both valuable properties off the tax roles. As non-profit Shannon Medical Center expanded, more properties on Oakes St. have been eliminated from the tax roles (See City of San Angelo TIRZ map below for defined northern and southern TIRZ).
While most of the growth in the TIRZ has been in the southern zone, the southern zone is starved of money. Downtown advocates like Velasquez said there is a need to be able to invest TIRZ funding into areas that are growing today. The north-south TIRZ designation, and the separation of the money, is a City mandated constraint, not a State of Texas constraint, he said.
Should the City bury the north-south divide and combine the TIRZ? That was the question before the City Council on Tuesday. Combining the TIRZ will release about $2 million to be invested where improvements are most needed in the southern zone, some argued. On the other hand, sequestering the northern TIRZ money onto its own account will allow Northside entrepreneurs more equal footing with the investors of property in the southern TIRZ. Yolanda Franco, owner of Western Skies Steak House located in the northern TIRZ, said she was appreciative of the TIRZ grant provided to her business. She said she was able to spend more money renovating the inside of her restaurant because the TIRZ grant took care of the building’s exterior.
City Councilman Tom Thompson represents a district in the northern TIRZ. He said he is worried that if the City consolidates the two zones, the TIRZ board will prioritize higher dollar amounts and discriminate with smaller dollar amounts requested, putting his constituent business owners at a disadvantage. Property owners provide matching money, depending on the requirements of the board. This matching requirement may reduce the dollar amount a Northside business requests, Thompson said. “Smaller [northern TIRZ] businesses will not get the same priority and get overlooked,” Thompson said. While he is not at this time in favor of combining the TIRZ, Thompson offered a compromise. “If there is unused money in the northern TIRZ account, let’s move it to the south where it can be used,” he said.
On the other hand, Velasquez wants one TIRZ for the good of the entire City of San Angelo.
“TIRZ was originally setup as one zone,” explained Velasquez. “Then it became a political football between Northside and Southside interests, dividing the money up. Today, we have $2 million [in the Northern TIRZ account] doing nothing for anyone. If we decide to put all of the money into one unified zone, it will stimulate investment in downtown,” Velasquez argued.