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BLOG: Downtown investment -- a good thing, except in election years

Tom Jackson • Oct 28, 2010 at 9:36 AM

City of Sandusky officials are eager to get people to invest in downtown Sandusky, as I reported in Wednesday's paper. So if someone develops a condo project downtown, investing millions of dollars and giving a boost to an area largely known for empty buildings, that's good, right?

Not always. Not when there's a partisan election going on.

In a letter to the editor printed in Sunday's paper, a retired union official named Leeon Caudill criticized Jeff Krabill, a Republican House candidate, for obtaining a tax break for  his LakeView condo project. In his letter, Caudill pointed out that Krabill voted to renew the Sandusky school superintendent's contract in July 2004, then resigned from the board. The board then approved a tax abatement for LakeView, Krabill's condo development.

What matters here is whether Krabill got a special tax break that other people wouldn't have received.

I phoned Gregory Sherman, the city's economic development consultant, who told me that the five year, 50 percent tax abatements are "not exactly particularly generous" and no different from what anyone else would have obtained.

Krabill arguably could have stayed on the board and abstained on the tax abatement vote. In fact, he actually resigned. What else was he supposed to do to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest?

The city routinely grants tax abatements (and offers loans, and offers other incentives) to people who will help revitalize downtown. A tax increment financing deal helped bring in Kalahari Resort. Most people accept that aging cities such as Sandusky have little choice but to put something on the table when competing against other communities that offer incentives.

Footnote: The Murray law firm received a 100 percent, 15-year tax abatement for its building by the lake. State Rep. Dennis Murray, a partner in the firm, is Krabill's Democratic opponent.

I called state Rep. Dennis Murray, D-Sandusky, to ask if he had any comment on Caudill's letter. Murray said he knew nothing about the letter until it appeared in the paper. "I know nothing about those underlying events and I have no comment on it," Murray said.

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