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Archive for Friday, April 6, 2001

College towns vary with tax breaks

April 6, 2001

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Kathleen Walsh couldn't stifle a giggle when asked whether the city of Boulder, Colo., gives tax abatements.

"You mean for people to come here and do business?" asked Walsh, a tax assistant of 20 years with the city that is home to the University of Colorado. "We can't keep them out."

Other mid-sized college towns surveyed by the Journal-World in February also said they thrive without offering businesses tax breaks to attract them.

Abatements, where used, are granted sparingly, the Journal-World survey showed. And those towns that don't offer abatements don't seem to be hurting.

The Boulder Chamber of Commerce, in fact, is trying to keep the city government there from passing ordinances to slow a roaring economy Boulder is second in the nation to Silicon Valley for high-tech jobs per capita that's created urban sprawl.

"The attitude here is, it's the jobs that are causing the problems," said Stan Zemler, Boulder chamber president.

Don Herz, finance director for the city of Lincoln, Neb., said Nebraska's capital city and home to the University of Nebraska doesn't give abatements, either.

But that's not entirely by choice. The state oversees economic incentives, rebating sales and income taxes to businesses that meet certain job-creation targets.

"It's a statewide program, so it doesn't provide us with any advantages over any other city in the state," Herz said.

"About the only thing that the city does is we sometimes subsidize some of the infrastructure. We may help get a street into a particular location faster than planned, but no tax abatements."

The Lincoln economy is "fine" without abatements, Herz said.

Lori Fleming, finance director for the city of Columbia, Mo., home to the University of Missouri said that she couldn't recall the town ever granting an abatement she didn't even know if the city had a policy for abatements.

Columbia does have an advantage, Fleming said, because the city owns all of the utilities, allowing it to smooth the process of putting infrastructure in place for new businesses.

The businesses then pick up much of those costs.

"We don't pay for too much," she said. "And we're a growing city."

Manhattan, home to Kansas State University and the closest surveyed city to Lawrence, does give abatements.

"We only have about four outstanding tax abatements that have been granted in the city," said Diane Stoddard, assistant city manager.

"We've just found the property tax exemption is another tool we have. It doesn't have to be used in every case, but it's an option that's available."

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