Taking shape: A $10 million victory for Raytown schools
The Kansas City Star
Bravo for Raytown Superintendent Allan Markley and Kansas City Mayor Sly James. On Wednesday they did something unusual in the annals of tax increment financing controversies in this area.
They agreed to try to responsibly settle their disagreements on a proposed youth soccer complex in Kansas City.
Under the city’s initial plan, millions of public dollars created by the office complex in the Winchester Center TIF district west of Raytown and south of 63rd Street could have been used to help build the soccer facility in nearby Swope Park.
But it appears both sides now agree on a key issue: Raytown’s educational funds created in the Winchester district will not be spent on the new fields, which actually would be in the Kansas City Public Schools’ boundaries.
This pact could become a $10 million victory for the patrons of Raytown schools, who rightfully and loudly objected to the city’s original appalling soccer financing plan.
“I think we’re getting there,” Markley said, while later adding, “I’m not ready to sign anything yet.”
That’s for good reason. James’ initial proposal includes the normal cautions that nothing is binding until everybody involved has signed off. And while James still wants to build the soccer complex, it’s unclear how much that would cost, although it appears city and Jackson County sources would pay for much of it.
James and Markley have good reasons to keep negotiating.
- Markley wants a victory for school districts that have long fought TIF abuses.
Markley said it was positive that, as he understands it, one part of the proposed agreement would allow a few million dollars in Raytown TIF revenue to be used for better sidewalks and roads within the school district’s borders. That would benefit children who walk and ride buses to school.
The biggest victory looms if the agreement allows all future Raytown school tax dollars generated by buildings in the Winchester TIF to go to the schools. Tax revenues created for other jurisdictions, such as the Mid-Continent Public Library, also would start flowing to them.
- James doesn’t want the soccer field controversy to become the poster child for TIF reform in Missouri.
Already, state legislators have been looking at whether it’s time to curtail use of the city’s most popular tax break.
One change simply begs for passage in 2013: Prohibit any city from using one taxing jurisdiction’s funds to finance a project in another taxing jurisdiction’s back yard. That’s what the city had planned to do with Raytown’s funds.
But James — along with development lawyers and city officials across the state — would hate for the General Assembly to open up the possibility for TIF changes.
City officials hold almost all the power on these deals, allowing cities to spend lots of money from counties, school districts and other jurisdictions for projects the cities want, even if the jurisdictions don’t agree.
James is trying to protect reasonable incentive policies, and a deal with Markley could help do that.
All kinds of things could mess up a settlement, of course.
The Raytown school board might want more from James. Some board members are still extremely upset that Kansas City has failed to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars pledged to the district after it endorsed another city TIF deal — the Blue Ridge Crossing that replaced the Blue Ridge Mall years ago.
Other City Council members might not like all of what James proposed. Mayor Pro Tem Cindy Circo has been outspoken in her belief that the soccer project requires the school money to get done.
Or, James and Markley could be at loggerheads next week over other details in the pact.
Let’s hope not. The initial soccer funding plan should be killed, and the city and school district should amicably resolve their differences.
Reach Yael T. Abouhalkah at 816-234-4887 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. He blogs at voices.kansascity.com and appears on “Ruckus” at 7 tonight on KCPT. Twitter @YaelTAbouhalkah