The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

December 6, 2012

Anson Burlingame, columnist: Vote for TIF a vote for CART

By Anson Burlingame
Globe Columnist

JOPLIN, Mo. — About 10 days ago, I wrote a column published in the Globe related to tax increment financing issues that called for slowing down before the TIF Commission and elected officials voted to approve or disapprove the matter.

Now I believe enough information is available to vote on such matters.

For several weeks the leadership within the Joplin School District has worked hard conducting its own due diligence to evaluate the TIF plan developed by a consultant.

Negotiations to resolve differences have now been ongoing for well over a week as well. It behooves both sides to reach agreement for the sole reasons of moving forward with the vision created by the Citizens Advisory Review Team for a larger and better Joplin in the coming years.

The appointed TIF Commission must vote one way or the other. Two members of the school district leadership team are part of that commission — two out of 11 total votes. Following that vote, the City Council has the final vote to approve or disapprove the financing plan.

The compelling debate over the last few weeks has been over the impact of TIF, as ultimately written and placed before the TIF Commission, on our schools in Joplin. The two school district members of the TIF Commission will vote based on their assessment of that impact. Of course, the Joplin School District’s Board of Education’s collective view will be reflected in those two votes. It must be assumed that how C.J. Huff, superintendent of schools, and Paul Barr, chief financial officer, vote will be a vote from the Board of Education itself.

To me, it would be unconscionable for the TIF Commission as an appointed body to vote in opposition to the Board of Education. We as a community must work together, not in political opposition to such an important matter. The schools and the city together have a lot riding on this vote. The challenge is not how to disagree; rather it is how to work together in the best interests of all of Joplin.

But even more important than that call to work together, we must realize exactly what the TIF Commission and City Council votes really are all about. It is not simply a vote for or against a plan created by a paid consultant. Rather, it is a vote for or against the CART plan.

I attended the first CART public meeting not long after the tornado passed. It was a remarkable assembly of citizens to describe, in broad terms, how they wanted Joplin to look and become after recovery from that disaster. Over the following months, CART, under superb leadership, came up with a vision for Joplin, a vision that would be a city much better than our city before the storm.

The TIF plan is a way to now pay for that vision created by CART. In a sense, a vote to disapprove TIF is a vote against CART, in my view.  

If TIF is to be approved, it must have the support of the school district. And if the board and city negotiate a deal that is acceptable to both sides, then I defy any other appointed or elected official to vote against the TIF plan as presented ultimately to the TIF Commission. If the city and the school board can in fact and do reach an agreement, then we should proceed to make the CART vision a reality and pay for it as we go along.

If TIF is not approved by those representing the school district, the TIF Commission or City Council, we will then in all likelihood ask “now what?” and expect elected leaders to tell the community how to move forward to a larger and better Joplin, a growing Joplin with all working together to support such growth.

Anson Burlingame lives in Joplin.