Costly Bass Pro subsidy harms Independence
Jason White is a former Independence City Council member who still cares about the fiscal condition of the city, and how it affects basic city services for residents.
So when White recently asked questions about the cost of a taxpayer subsidy for an economic development project anchored by Bass Pro Shops, he made some good points.
Specifically, White wanted to know how the city was going to pay about $4 million over the next year to cover debt payments for the development - debt that the developer is supposed to pay but says it can’t afford because the shopping district isn’t raising as much tax revenue as projected.
On Thursday, Independence residents found out what part of the effect of that shortfall could be:
City officials said 16 employees could lose their jobs. Plus, 3-day furloughs could be required of remaining employees.
In other words, the costly subsidy is harming the ability of Independence to provide services to its residents.
Indeed, the city already has had to take $3.5 million to pay another recent bond payment. And that $3.5 million could have been used in the general fund for capital improvements or other good things the city needs.
The projected $4.1 million needed to cover bond payments in just the next 12 months - and more could be required in future years if the Bass Pro-led development continues to do poorly - would come out of a total Independence general fund budget of just under $70 million.
Do the math: That means taxpayers would have to set aside 6 percent of the general fund to pay for the debt.
By comparison, the public subsidy for the downtown Power and Light District is consuming an estimated 2.5 percent of Kansas City’s general fund.
One of White’s points in recent weeks has been that Independence city officials did not adequately tell the public about the debt-related problems, more or less springing them on taxpayers at the last minute.
White is right about that. But now the bigger concern is this: How can Independence get out of this fiscal hole?
Obviously, it can hope that the development gets more customers and more stores, all to create more tax revenue to help pay off the debt.
Other than that, the city needs to be more aggressive with the developer to see what can be done to force it legally to come up with more funds to pay off the public debt.