The wrong way to pay for Kansas City soccer complex
The Kansas City Star
For years Kansas City often has acted like a bully, funneling public funds toward economic development projects it supports.
Because of an unjust state law, the city controls a majority of votes needed on the Tax Increment Financing Commission to divert millions of tax dollars from school districts, counties and library systems. The city then can direct how the money is used.
But tired of getting sand kicked in their faces, some taxing jurisdictions are fighting back.
So congratulations to Raytown School District officials who, along with Jackson County and the Mid-Continent Public Library, are leading opposition to one of the most egregious TIF cases put forward in the metropolitan area. It’s disappointing that Mayor Sly James, Mayor Pro Tem Cindy Circo and many TIF members — so far — have backed this project.
In a nutshell, the city has proposed expanding a youth soccer complex in Swope Park, partly to use as an attraction for regional tournaments. While the project sounds appealing, the funding plan is not appropriate.
One key source is $11 million in surplus tax revenue created by the nearby Winchester Center TIF district in southeast Kansas City, close to Raytown. The city’s portion of that excess money is $6 million, which certainly could be used toward the complex.
But that’s not nearly enough to pay for the entire project. So the city unfortunately also wants to drain the surplus funds that all the other taxing jurisdictions have long expected to receive.
That means taking $4.1 million from the Raytown School District, $400,000 from Jackson County government, $210,000 from the Mid-Continent Public Library, $150,000 from the Metropolitan Community College, $80,000 from a mental health fund, $50,000 from a handicapped workshop fund and $20,000 from the blind pension fund.
It gets worse: The city also wants to divert millions of future tax dollars from these entities, with some of them used to build synthetic soccer fields, restrooms, concession stands, bleachers and 824 new parking spaces. The Raytown district estimates its total tax revenue losses at $13 million.
Raytown school officials have offered several legal objections, specifically opposing the city’s attempt to try to extend part of a 21-year-old TIF plan far past its original expiration date.
Another galling aspect for Superintendent Allan Markley: The tax money that Raytown wants to invest in the education of its youth would instead be used by the city to build a soccer complex outside the school district’s boundaries. Swope Park is inside the Kansas City Public Schools’ boundaries.
The Mid-Continent Public Library would face a similar disappointment. Instead of getting access to funds to improve facilities for its customers, the library would see its tax revenues used to build a project within the boundaries of the Kansas City Public Library.
It’s good to see Jackson County officials supporting the other tax jurisdictions in this dispute. Several years ago County Executive Mike Sanders successfully led a battle with city officials to end a midtown TIF project and return $1.6 million in excess revenue to various taxing jurisdictions. The buildings in that TIF district are now on the tax rolls.
The TIF Commission this week said it wouldn’t make a decision on the soccer project until January. Undoubtedly, supporters will be pressuring Sanders, Markley and others to withdraw their opposition.
They shouldn’t back down. It’s time to distribute the excess Winchester Center TIF money to the taxing jurisdictions, and allow the city and other governmental units to get the full amount of future public tax revenues generated by businesses in that area.
If Kansas City thinks it’s a high priority to build a first-rate soccer complex, James and the City Council should work out a public/private deal with Sporting Kansas City to do that. Siphoning money from other taxing jurisdictions is not the answer.