By Emily Younker
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Joplin school officials on Friday released details of a proposal they said they have submitted to the city and its master developer to address concerns about a proposed tax increment financing district to help the city recover from the May 2011 tornado.
The TIF Commission on Friday night was host for a public hearing — during which 17 people spoke on the plan — in preparation for a vote later this month that will be a recommendation to the Joplin City Council, which has final authority in creating the TIF district.
Superintendent C.J. Huff said school and city officials met early Friday afternoon to discuss the school district’s proposal and could meet again as early as Monday to continue their discussions.
School officials are asking for approximately $16 million to help offset the loss of revenue they anticipate if the TIF district is created. The TIF district would freeze assessed valuations for the 23-year life of the district at a post-tornado level, which is about $39 million lower than before the storm.
David Wallace, CEO of Wallace Bajjali Development Partners, under contract as the city’s master developer, previously offered the school district a $12 million payment during the third year of the TIF to address that concern.
District officials have also expressed concern that housing redevelopment in the TIF area could spur growth in enrollment without access to the property taxes that would come from that development, as any increases in property taxes within the TIF area would go to the TIF fund. In its Friday proposal to address that issue, the school district was asking for a payment of $3,925 per new student in the TIF area above the district’s baseline enrollment prior to the tornado.
That amount, officials said, would cover the annual cost of educating that student, which is $1,361 per elementary student and $1,525 per middle school student.
The payment would also provide for capital expenses should increases in enrollment require that a new school be built. Huff said he would recommend that those expenses be put into an escrow account for future construction costs. If no school should need to be built, that money could be returned to the TIF fund for development, he said.
Wallace Bajjali earlier this week had proposed a payment of $2,500 per student in the TIF area to address the district’s concern about enrollment growth.
Paul Barr, the school district’s chief financial officer, said the district had been analyzing the developer’s proposal since it was offered to them Tuesday.
“This is merely our evaluation of their offer, and we are open to discussion about it,” he said.
Barr said the school district’s proposal is neither an attempt to address issues caused by the 2011 tornado nor an attempt to grow the budget.
“What we’re doing is evaluating the TIF proposal so that in order to maintain our budget, we don’t incur any negative financial impact because of the TIF,” he said.
City Manager Mark Rohr, in a statement released Friday afternoon through Lynn Onstot, the city’s public information officer, confirmed that a representative from the city had met with school officials earlier in the day.
“We intend to stay at the table until the issues are resolved,” Rohr said. “The matter is too important to the future of the city as a whole to do anything less.”
Wallace, during Friday’s public hearing, said he thought a resolution with the school district was close at hand.
“I would say that we are truly within spitting distance of getting these issues resolved,” he said. “I am certain, and optimistically certain, that over the next two or three business days, we will reach an agreement on this.”
The TIF district is being proposed by Wallace Bajjali to help pay for $806 million in residential and commercial redevelopment projects across most of the zone affected by the tornado and into the downtown area. It is projected to generate up to $60 million in revenue over 23 years through increases in property taxes and a portion of sales taxes.
The public hearing held Friday before the TIF Commission is part of the steps toward creation of a TIF district and is required by state law. Seventeen people testified before the commission, some in support of the plan and some in opposition to it.
Tom Mourning, a Joplin resident and employee of Metro Appliances and More, asked the commission to support the TIF district for the future of the city.
“I would like to not see these next two decades be referred to as ‘the lost decades,’” he said. “At the end of this 23-year period, Joplin needs to be not where it was in 2011, but where it could be in 23 years, and we could build a beautiful city.”
Rob O’Brian, president of the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce, said he did not want to see any taxing district in the TIF area burdened by the plan, and he hoped for a resolution among the city, school district and developer so that the plan can move forward.
“We believe, as a chamber, that the TIF is critical to the effective rebuilding of the community,” he said.
Robert “Bo” Lee, a former member of the Joplin Board of Education, said he understood how much redevelopment the TIF district would spur in the city. But he also urged commissioners to make funding Joplin’s school system a priority.
“Unless you can assure yourselves that for the next 23 years there will be enough funds for the district to educate our kids, you’ve got to vote ‘no’ on this,” he said. “Our most important goal is to educate our children. All these other things come only if we’ve got an educated community.”
The TIF Commission will meet at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 6, at which time commissioners could formally vote on whether to recommend the TIF proposal to the Joplin City Council.