By Emily Younker
JOPLIN, Mo. —
The Joplin School District’s two representatives to the city’s TIF Commission plan to ask commissioners to postpone a vote on a proposed tax increment financing district that is scheduled for Friday.
That direction came Tuesday night from the Board of Education, whose members said they did not have enough information on how the school district could address possible negative impacts from the TIF district over its 23-year duration.
“I think we need more time,” board President Randy Steele said.
When asked by the Globe after the meeting for clarification of his statement, Steele said the school board needs more time to look at and analyze information that is being given to it by the city and the city’s master developer on how the TIF district could affect Joplin schools.
“(We need) hopefully more time to negotiate a better deal and be fair about it,” he said. “We need to make sure that we’re held accountable to our 7,000 students.”
The TIF district is being proposed by Wallace Bajjali Development Partners, the city’s master developer, to help pay for $806 million in redevelopment projects across most of the tornado zone and downtown. Any new taxes realized from increased assessments as the TIF district grows in value would go to a city TIF fund to pay off bonds the city would obtain to help finance projects.
School Superintendent C.J. Huff and Paul Barr, the school district’s chief financial officer, are members of the 11-member TIF Commission. It will hold a hearing Friday for public comment on the proposal. Commissioners on Friday also could vote on the proposal and make a recommendation to the City Council.
Huff said he could not make a recommendation to the board Tuesday night on whether to support the TIF proposal because the school district, the city and the developer have not yet reached an agreement about how to address school officials’ primary concerns with the TIF plan.
One concern is that the proposal would freeze the assessed value of properties at a post-tornado level, which for the school district is about $34 million lower than it was before the May 2011 storm. Another concern is that redevelopment could bring an increase in student enrollment without increases in property taxes from within the TIF district, which could create a need to build additional schools and add more operating expenses.
The school district has asked for annual payments from the TIF district to help offset any loss in revenue.
Huff said discussions on those two points between the school district and the city are ongoing. He said he received “new information” from the city as recently as 4 p.m. Tuesday, just an hour and a half before the board was scheduled to meet, but he had not had time to study it.
“It changes certainly day by day, sometimes hour by hour,” he told the board. “What I prefer is to have continuance and delay action to give us the opportunity to analyze these numbers. Right now, quite frankly, we’ve been rushed up to this point. There’s still a lot hanging out there and a lot of loose ends to be tied up, and I don’t think we can get that by Friday.”
The motion to ask the TIF Commission for a continuance was made by school board member Michael D. Landis and seconded by Jim Kimbrough. It was approved unanimously.
“Obviously, we have to have a recommendation from you all” in order to support the TIF proposal, Landis told Huff during Tuesday’s meeting. “The recommendation (from the board) would be for you and Paul (Barr) to ask for continuance on Friday night until you have more information to make a recommendation to us.”
David Wallace, of Wallace Bajjali, previously told the Globe that if the TIF district is to be created, the City Council must take action on it by Dec. 31. Otherwise, he said, the city risks losing nearly half of the $60 million in revenue that the TIF district is currently projected to generate because of new property values that will be assessed at the first of the year.
Huff said the vote by the commission, which is an advisory panel to the City Council, could be delayed as late as Dec. 14 and still allow the council time to consider and vote on the proposal by the end of the year.
IN OTHER BUSINESS TUESDAY, the Joplin Board of Education voted to retain the King Hershey law firm, of Kansas City, for advisory services related to the TIF district for a cost not to exceed $25,000.