• Concern about TIF drives vote

  • A vote that came easily for the Independence TIF Commission four years ago is posing a more difficult decision now.

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  • A vote that came easily for the Independence TIF Commission four years ago is posing a more difficult decision now.
    Two weeks ago, commission members voted 5-4 to not recommend approval of the changes to the Blue Ridge Crossing East agreement. The redevelopment of the former Blue Ridge Cinema site near Interstate 70 and U.S. 40 calls for an anchor tenant, a retail building with several tenants and one restaurant.
    Blue Ridge Cinema was built in 1971 and closed in 1995, with the building being demolished in the summer of 2009. The original TIF plan sat without movement for four years, but the developer came back in December of last year, asking to extend the life of the pay-as-you-go project, as well as revising the layout and project costs.
    Both the TIF Commission and City Council members unanimously approved the original plan brought forth in late 2008/early 2009. The City Council will vote April 1 on the amendment to the existing TIF plan.
    Several TIF Commission members recently explained their votes from the March 7 meeting, after no commission members spoke publicly at the meeting about why they voted one way or another.
    Prior to the TIF Commission meeting, Raytown School District officials held two meetings with the developer to get background on the project. Blue Ridge Crossing East is within the Raytown School District.
    Raytown School District Superintendent Allan Markley, who voted against the amendment, said district officials tried negotiating a deal with the developer to where not 100 percent of the PILOTS were captured.
    “We started the discussion at 50 (percent), and really, that went nowhere,” Markley said. “It’s something we couldn’t agree to.”
    Pay-as-you-go TIF projects call for the developer to front all the cost of the development, in return receiving sales and property tax revenues in increments throughout the life of the TIF. The property owners make payments in lieu of taxes (or PILOTS) to a special allocation fund, and property taxes are basically “frozen” for the life of the TIF.
    In relation to the PILOTS of the TIF, the developer did offer to pay out $30,000 annually out of any amount that goes over the projected revenue. After that offer fizzled, the developer came back with another offer, suggesting 5 percent of PILOTS that would produce immediate revenue for all of the taxing jurisdictions within the TIF.
    “Those are tax revenues that we could be using for students today instead of banking on getting those tax revenues in 14 years,” Markley said. “Every year, I have a new generation of students leaving and a new generation of students coming in. A really good way to put it is that our costs are now. Every revenue stream that we have, it’s important to protect those.”
    While Markley thinks the proposed development is a good one, he said Raytown School District shouldn’t serve as the project’s primary funding source.
    Page 2 of 3 - “We’re all for economic development,” Markley said, “but not on the backs of our students.”
    Along with Markley, others who voted against the TIF amendment included Steve Potter, director of libraries at Mid-Continent Public Library; Mark Trosen, deputy director of Jackson County Parks and Recreation; Daniel Moye, Jackson County development incentive coordinator; and Brian Blankenship, associate superintendent of the Raytown School District.
    While he was more eager to approve TIF districts 10 to 15 years ago, Potter said he has looked more critically in recent years at how tax diversion programs affect local taxing districts.
    “In terms of Mid-Continent, we’re diverting about $1 million in revenue each year to tax diversion programs,” Potter said. “With our revenues stagnant and with this amount of money potentially being diverted, we’re starting to look at more crucially at these programs and what people are asking for.”
    Another concern, Potter said, is that many retail TIF projects don’t bring quality jobs with benefits and livable wages for their employees. With economic development and stimulus, Potter said, the idea is to inject money into one area, built it up, and then others should be attracted to locating there because of the redevelopment.
    Potter pointed to the tax increment financing investment that Kansas City made following the demolition of the former Blue Ridge Mall and the development of Walmart and Lowe’s. Part of that project, however, is in Independence and didn’t use TIF dollars to develop, including East Buffet, T-Mobile, Starbucks, McDonald’s and Good Nails.
    “The question that people ask is at what time does the corporate welfare need to stop to allow everything to grow naturally and organically?” Potter said. “That’s something that we’re not seeing in several jurisdictions right now, and it’s very troubling.”
    Two members who voted yes four years ago are still in favor of the TIF plan, even with the proposed changes.
    Independence attorney Martin Kuny said TIF is designed to help once-developed areas that later became blighted and that the original provisions for the TIF plan in late 2008/early 2009 are still in place.
    “To me, that location was the perfect place for the TIF to take place,” Kuny said of Blue Ridge Crossing East. “From my perspective, it’s the kind of project that we want for TIF projects because it’s clearly in a part of town that wasn’t seeing development, other than the TIF development across the street. It’s a project that I thought was very appropriate for the TIF treatment.”
    While Potter is concerned about the lack of wages and benefits that often come with retail jobs, Kuny is taking a different view, saying that 150 new jobs with the Burlington Coat Factory tenant alone is good news for Eastern Jackson County.
    Page 3 of 3 - “Although they’re retail jobs, they’re still new employment when it’s still important for the city, county and the country, for that matter,” Kuny said. “I think that sort of added an additional benefit in the TIF project that wasn’t such a concern in 2008.”
    Vaughn Cornish, who also voted yes four years ago, said he hates to see the land sit empty and idle without generating any tax revenue. If developed, Cornish said he thinks the project would pay off the TIF in a reasonable amount of time.
    “It’s a piece of land that is undeveloped at this point, and the TIF Commission voted before that it would proceed,” he said. “I see no reason why it wouldn’t proceed forward now.”
    If citizens wish to speak at a council meeting about the TIF, they can call the City Clerk’s Office at 816-325-7010. City Council District 4 Member Eileen Weir, whose district includes the TIF plan, attended the meeting two weeks ago, but she said she’s still talking with constituents in deciding which way she’ll vote.
    “It’s no secret that I’m interested in redevelopment and cleaning up on blight on 40 Highway,” she said. “I’m still trying to find out where people stand on it.”

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