GREENFIELD — More development means more jobs and an economic boost for Hancock County, but county officials are concerned about covering the increased costs that such projects also bring with them.

With two retail giants planning to open distribution hubs in the county, financial adviser Greg Guerrettaz reminded county officials last week that it’s important to remember that more jobs means more people living in the community and using its resources.

“You’re almost going to have a brand new town that’s going to get created,” Guerrettaz said.

Walmart plans to build a 2.2 million-square foot distribution hub in Buck Creek Township, which will be used to fulfill e-commerce orders. It has indicated that it is likely to ask for a tax abatement.

Another retail giant, Amazon, is constructing its 660,384-square foot Hancock County fulfillment center not far away. It will be one of the company’s largest facilities in the U.S. Put together, the two centers are expected to bring in at least 1,800 jobs.

Both developments are situated within the Mt. Comfort area’s tax increment financing district. Tax increment financing encourages development by diverting a portion of property taxes to help finance development in an area, including expenses like streets and sewers.

There’s more development on the horizon, too. Also located within a county TIF district is a 144-acre plot of land owned by Hancock Health, with the Gateway Hancock Health facility at its center at Mt. Comfort Road and Interstate 70. Steve Long, president of Hancock Health, said the facility is just the beginning of future development for the Mt. Comfort corridor. Fourteen lots located on the property are planned to be used for commercial development, including retail, office space and hotels.

Hancock Health plans to purchase bonds totaling $22.2 million for the cost of developing the area, which it would then repay. The health network would essentially owe money to itself, assuming the financial risk if the investment in the area does not work out, but it needs Hancock County as a middleman to issue the bonds.

Long said Hancock Health would have until 2039 to pay back the bonds, but it anticipates that it would only need about five to six years to recoup the investment. He said the development of the area will be beneficial for the community as a whole.

“We are a completely locally owned organization, and we wanted to keep the money in the county,” Long said. “This is a great way to do that.”

He also anticipates adding more medical facilities to the area, anticipating the need for a freestanding emergency room, medical office buildings, and a surgery center. At the pace the county is growing, he said, it will need a second hospital in 30 years.

“There is a very bright future for Hancock County,” Long said.

But with the growth comes concerns. Members of the Hancock County Council are wary of other impacts, such as more people moving their families to the area.

“You’re going to bring hundreds of kids in if the people move to the community,” council member Kent Fisk said.

A manufacturing plant that brought 1,100 jobs to the community previously also brought in about 700 children, Fisk said, too many for one elementary school. The Amazon and Walmart projects are likely to require the creation of at least one new school, officials say.

The Hancock County Highway Department has already begun work on connector roads to the Amazon location, and additional housing will likely be needed in the area as well.

County council member Jim Shelby pointed out that new arrivals also mean additional expenses for police and fire departments. Councilwoman Mary Noe said she would like businesses located in the TIF areas to consider making payments in lieu of taxes, also called PILOTs, to the county’s school corporations.

Council members proposed that the TIF district could be asked to pay back a portion of TIF revenue, perhaps 10% or 20%, to the taxing district so that it could contribute to expenses like schools and public safety.
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