County exploring federal re-investment program for low-income areas

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Lincoln County is looking into an economic development program targeting low-income community census tracts, of which four in the county — including the City of Libby — are eligible.

Each state can only identify 25 such areas for participation in the program, which was established by the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. Montana contains 106 eligible tracts, including Lincoln County’s, according to a news release from the Montana Department of Commerce.

Tina Oliphant, executive director of the Lincoln County Port Authority, first presented the opportunity to the Lincoln County Commission at its Feb. 28 meeting. The deadline to apply for the so-called Opportunity Zone designation is March 30.

Oliphant told the three commissioners the program’s intention is to encourage long-term investment — 5-10 years, she said — in low-income communities by providing a federal tax incentive for taxpayers who reinvest unrealized capital gains into “Opportunity Funds.”

Such reinvestment could include downtown revitalization, workforce development, affordable housing, infrastructure, and business startup and expansion, according to the Department of Commerce news release.

Oliphant followed up with the County Commission at its March 7 meeting, explaining that she intended to put together a proposal for the City of Libby that included the Port Authority.

“(We) have to tell a story of how we’re going to position ourselves to solicit investments,” she told the commissioners.

Oliphant also said she would need more information if the commissioners wanted to submit proposals for the eligible Eureka and Troy tracts in addition to Libby.

She added that if the county submitted proposals for more than one tract, it would have to identify which one was the priority application, given the limited statewide availability of the Opportunity Zone designation.

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