By Emily Younker and Andy Ostmeyer
JOPLIN, Mo. —
As a public hearing and a vote on a proposed tax increment financing district loom, many questions remained Monday from both residents and the taxing entities that would provide the revenue for the proposal.
David Wallace, of Wallace Bajjali Development Partners, the city’s Texas-based master developer for tornado recovery, fielded about an hour’s worth of questions and concerns Monday night from a crowd of more than 100 people in attendance at City Hall for the second of two public information sessions about the tax district.
The proposed TIF district covers more than 3,100 acres through the tornado-affected zone and downtown. It would take the growth in taxes from increases in real estate assessments and a portion of sales taxes to help pay for redevelopment in that area.
Wallace has said the TIF proposal could take in up to $60 million. The projects slated for completion in the TIF area, which would include housing, retail and mixed-use districts, would cost about $806 million.
The 11-member Tax Increment Finance Commission will hold a public hearing on the proposal on Friday, at which time it also is expected to vote on whether to recommend the plan to the City Council.
Jerry Black, a Joplin resident who owns property within the proposed TIF area, said during Monday’s meeting that he was concerned that most of the revenue for the TIF district would come from the school district’s tax base. He said he wondered whether school district officials would soon have to ask voters for another levy increase to cover budgetary needs.
“You’re putting a burden on the taxpayers in the R-8 district,” he said in addressing the developer. “The impact that this is going to have on the school district is devastating.”
School Superintendent C.J. Huff said earlier Monday that he had met with Wallace to discuss some of the school district’s concerns with the TIF proposal. School officials had outlined those concerns in a Nov. 16 letter to the TIF Commission. They said the tax district, as proposed, would freeze the school district’s revenue base at the assessed value of properties after the 2011 tornado, which is $34 million lower than the figure before the storm. The school district would lose about $22 million over the 23-year duration of the TIF district, and it has asked for annual payments that would increase 1.5 percent annually, officials said.
School officials also projected that housing redevelopment could draw up to 2,630 new students to Joplin schools, which they said would create a need to construct new schools and increase operating costs for a total of about $143 million.
Huff said Monday that no agreement on those issues had been reached, yet he still hoped that an “amicable solution” could be reached within the next few days.
“What did happen (on Monday) was I think that we were able to present information that related to how this TIF impacts our school district and, again, reiterating the need for this TIF to hold the district harmless to the greatest degree possible,” Huff said. “That message was heard. We had a good discussion about some of the challenges.”
Wallace, during Monday night’s meeting, said he remains committed to helping the school district with its concerns.
“I’m quite optimistic that we can come to a successful conclusion,” he said.
Like the Joplin School District, Jasper County — another taxing entity within the TIF area — is waiting on more answers.
Darieus Adams, Western District county commissioner, said it would be better to postpone Friday’s vote than to go forward if no agreements are reached.
He estimated that the county could lose between $80,000 and $85,000 per year to the TIF district — money that would otherwise go to the county’s general revenue fund.
“We definitely want to be partners in this, and we want everything to work,” he said Monday. He said county leaders still have questions about payments that can be made to offset tax losses, as well as reimbursement for administrative costs stemming from the additional work the TIF district would impose on the county assessor and collector, for example.
“I am not sure I have enough information to tell you ‘yes’ or ‘no,’” Adams said, when asked where he came down on the TIF Commission’s vote. He said Presiding Commissioner John Bartosh shares many of the same concerns. Bartosh deferred questions to Adams on Monday.
Joplin’s TIF Commission meets at noon Wednesday, and Adams said he and Bartosh hope to get more answers then. If not, he said, it would be better to delay the public hearing and vote until after Friday. It would advance from there to the City Council, which can accept or overrule the TIF Commission’s recommendation.
“We only get one chance to do this right,” Adams said.
Wallace has said that if the city does not proceed as scheduled with the TIF district, it would risk losing some of the projects in the plan.
Doug Doll, chairman of the TIF Commission, said he has yet to make up his mind. He served on the previous commissions that ultimately recommended approval of the North Park Crossing and 1717 Marketplace TIF districts.
“I’m waiting for more answers,” Doll said. “I want the school system to support the TIF. I want them to work out an agreement. It is hard to vote against your local school district.”
A PUBLIC HEARING for comments on the TIF proposal is scheduled for 6 p.m. Friday at City Hall, 602 S. Main St.