Rutherford County took a step becoming the first county in the state to help owners of historic properties with upkeep.
At the Feb. 4 Steering Committee meeting, a measure was proposed that would reduce the taxes owed by owners of property that is more than 75 years old if they are preserved or restored.
Rutherford County Historian Greg Tucker presented the resolution to the steering committee, which approved the measure unanimously.
"The cost to the county will be nominal, but the impression we will make will be the impression of a body and county that cares about historic preservation," Tucker said.
Tennessee is one of only 15 states that don't current offer any form of tax abatements for fixing up historic properties.
The full process and requirements haven't been set yet, but as I understand it, it will work similar to a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) incentive.
TIF incentives encourage redevelopment of blighted areas by reducing a developer’s tax burden. This is done by locking the property taxes at current levels for a set amount of time and applying taxes from the improved value to the cost of development. The usual time frame is 20 years. TIF incentives create a revenue stream for developers to self-finance pay-down debt on the project.
With the Property Tax Abatement on Historic Properties (as it's so eloquently called), the property owners would be rewarded with a frozen tax rate and the value of the improvements would not be assessed for a set amount of time. Property owners could offset the cost of restoring a historic home or commercial property with the property tax savings.
Tucker then briefly explained the process for getting approval.
As it is proposed, the buildings must be valued at more than $200,000 and the renovations more than $20,000. Residential properties must be owner-occupied.
"The way it would work is the owner of a historic property would go before a review board established by the commission that will have previously set out standards and conditions that have to be met and apply to the appropriate status.
If it is approved, both the historic nature of the property and the restoration efforts, then the owner would have their tax burden reduced on the amount spent on the renovation.
The resolution must be approved by the County Commission and then a Historic Review Commission would be established.
The cities of Murfreesboro, Smyrna, La Vergne and Eagleville do not yet offer a similar abatement.
National Trust for Historic Preservation says that restoring historic buildings can be cost-prohibited and programs like this can help revitalize downtowns and place vacant buildings back on the tax rolls.