By Debby Woodin
JOPLIN, Mo. —
A deal may soon be reached between the Joplin School District and the city and its developer on a proposal to establish a tax increment financing district to help out with tornado recovery.
“We think we will be able to reach a reasonable resolution in the next 24 to 48 hours,” school Superintendent C.J. Huff told the school board on Thursday afternoon. Huff asked the board to meet again Monday if a final agreement is reached so that panel can act on it.
David Wallace, of Wallace Bajjali Development Partners, Joplin’s master developer, confirmed that discussions may be close to producing an outcome in favor of the TIF plan when he spoke Thursday night at a public hearing on it held by the city TIF Commission. Wallace said there have been a series of discussions this week. “I think we are extremely close” to reaching an agreement, he told the commission.
Neither he nor Huff would disclose any financial details that have been agreed upon to this point.
The city had offered a $12 million payment to offset the loss of revenue the school district would incur in the TIF district, but school administrators projected the loss as $16 million. That loss, they said, would come from freezing assessed valuations in the district at a post-tornado level that is about $39 million less than before the May 2011 storm.
Wallace told the TIF Commission the intent was “how can we get the school district back to pre-tornado funding and what impact will (the TIF district) bring? Both of those challenges have been articulated very well by the school district.”
School officials also want payments to offset the cost of any new students that enroll in the district as a result of the TIF district-generated development. The city and developer had offered $2,500 per student above the school’s population before the tornado. The school district is asking for $3,925.
Huff said last week the payment also would give the district capital expenses to build if new enrollment required another school. If not, the money would be returned to the TIF district, he said.
Huff told the school board Thursday that negotiations have “narrowed that gap significantly” in regard to the payments. Asked by the Globe how much money was being discussed now for those payments, Huff would only say, “We are still negotiating, but feel confident that we will find a way to close the per-pupil-funding gap that exists between Joplin schools and the city of Joplin.”
School officials have an obligation to assure that the district has the funds to fulfill its education mission, Huff said. “The TIF, as it was posed, would have created some insurmountable challenges” toward the cost of providing education at the level the district currently provides, he said.
“Can we make it and be just fine? Yes,” he told the board, if this final stage of negotiations works out.
During the discussions, it was the school district’s intent to protect the revenue from a 35-cent debt levy set to repay the $62 million bond issue voters authorized last year to help rebuild the school system, Huff said. If any of that revenue from increased growth went to the TIF district, it could take longer to pay off the bonds and cost the school district more money in interest, he said.
Board member Dawn Sticklen told the school board during its meeting, “I see it as more that the school district has a fiduciary duty to taxpayers rather than fighting over money.”
There were two speakers at the public hearing Thursday night other than Wallace.
Bill Pate, 111 S. Sergeant Ave., and Larry Allgood, Neosho, asked the commission to delay a vote until next year and take more time to study the possible consequences.
Pate said the tax base will be higher after the first of the year and could generate more money for the TIF district if it is enacted later. He said a large amount of money will go into the TIF district in its early years. “Perhaps this the time for prudent to take over rather than expediency,” he said.
Allgood, who owns a business in Joplin, voiced his opposition to the TIF proposal, saying it was a flawed approach.
The public hearing will continue again at 5:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 14.
Chairman Doug Doll said that if the agreement is acceptable to all the taxing entities, the commission likely will take a vote after that public hearing.
City Attorney Brian Head said the TIF Commission must vote on the TIF proposal by Dec. 14 in order for the City Council to consider it before the end of the year.