By Emily Younker
Joplin school officials are hoping by Friday to have identified specific issues they could face — and the costs associated with them — if the city gives the green light to a proposed tax increment financing district to help pay for tornado recovery.
“It’s very complicated, and we all want very much for this community to rebuild, but there are things that make this one (TIF) very unique, so we’re proceeding very cautiously with this,” Superintendent C.J. Huff said during a Board of Education work session Tuesday.
The purpose of the TIF district, which is being proposed by the city’s master developer, is to take any increases in tax revenues generated by redevelopment construction to invest in building more projects. The school district is the largest taxing entity within the TIF area, which covers more than 6,000 parcels of land across most of the tornado-affected zone and downtown, and it would provide a majority of revenue received by the TIF district from increases in real estate property taxes.
School administrators say they are working with the city ahead of a Nov. 30 public hearing on the proposal to resolve potential concerns. They are putting together a list of specific issues they foresee for the school district should the TIF district be implemented, and they hope to have it completed by the end of the week, Huff said.
“We understand the school business; they understand the city business,” he said. “We have to educate them on the caveats this will create for us.”
The school officials’ aim is to protect the school district from being unintentionally financially harmed in the future as a result of the tax district, which is allowed by state statute to be in place for up to 23 years, said Paul Barr, the district’s chief financial officer.
“By Friday, we’re going to provide the city with some financial information that describes the potential negative impact that the TIF could impose on the school district,” Barr said. “But we’re committed to working with the city on that.”
Chief among the district’s concerns is the possibility of growth in enrollment, particularly from new students who move into housing developments in the TIF area, without the additional revenue from increases in property taxes to help offset operating or construction costs.
Another concern is that the district’s assessed value, currently about $34 million less than it was before the May 2011 tornado, could be frozen by the TIF proposal at that level or at a level lower than the pre-tornado amount. Assessed value determines how much revenue the school district gets from property taxes.
Board members on Tuesday were mostly cautious about the proposal, asking Barr questions about how a TIF district operates.
Mike Landis said he has had “quite a few” phone calls from Joplin residents asking whether the school district would be covered financially during the life of the TIF district.
“Obviously they don’t want to see us come back some day and raise the levy, and come back to the voters and raise their taxes,” he said.
In other business Tuesday, the board approved bid packages for roofing and sheet metal, drywall and ceilings, ceramic tile, floor coverings, food service and theatrical equipment, elevators and security at the new East Middle School.
Board members also approved a $28,140 proposal that allows Patterson Latimer Jones Brannon Denham Inc., an architectural firm in Joplin, to independently review the cost estimate prepared by the Federal Emergency Management Agency for relocating Joplin High School out of a flood plain. The independent review will ensure that the district is eligible for the highest possible amount of reimbursable funds from FEMA for the construction project, according to Mike Johnson, the district’s director of construction.
THE JOPLIN BOARD OF EDUCATION will likely give its vote of approval or opposition to the proposed TIF district at its Nov. 27 meeting, board President Randy Steele said. The school district’s two members on the 11-member TIF Commission, C.J. Huff and Paul Barr, will cast their votes on the proposal according to the direction of the school board.