LETTER: Columbia Apartment Association opposes TIF funding in city

Tuesday, July 14, 2009 | 1:40 p.m. CDT

To the City Council:

The Columbia Apartment Association strongly opposes the use of Tax Increment Funding in the Tiger Hotel and Tenth and Locust developments. Much has been said and written in support of these projects, but we want to state a few points we consider important.

CLAIM: Downtown is in decline. Downtown sales tax revenue is declining, and the issuance of downtown business licenses is flat. There is or will be blight.

RECONSIDER: Measuring economic success is not done by just considering the number of business licenses and the amount of retail sales tax. These two measurements are narrow and misleading. Neither considers increases in employment or non-sales and non-retail economic activity.

Number of business licenses: Consider that a business that has grown ten-fold may still operate with only one business license. Some business expansion and consolidation even results in the reduction of the number of business licenses as in the purchase of Boone National Savings and Loan by Commerce Bank.

Amount of sales tax: Consider that attorneys, accountants, doctors, property management, banks, counseling and government business do not pay sales tax and, therefore, cannot be measured by sales tax.

Blight is controlled by the market and the government. A blighted business will have trouble competing; therefore, any business will keep itself attractive to customers and the general public. Furthermore, the City has an entire department and legal section dedicated to enforcing the “Minimum Property Standards,” and the City employees do a good job preventing blight in Columbia.

CLAIM: Tenth and Locust — These are luxury apartment for professionals.

RECONSIDER: Professionals will not want to live in a very small (less than 900 square foot), two-bedroom apartment with absolutely no windows in the living room or kitchen. For a window view, one has to violate the privacy of the bedrooms as the bedrooms have the only windows. “Luxury living” is living/entertaining in your bedroom. Furthermore, there is no parking. Does the public provide parking for 58 two-bedroom apartments which could mean 116 cars? Considering design, this may be our tax dollars subsidizing one developer's student housing.

CLAIM: The Tiger Hotel as a boutique hotel will be economically viable.

RECONSIDER: The current hotels in Columbia have a low occupancy rate and face financial difficulty. The Tiger Hotel has already received tax subsidies (historical tax credits) but has apparently failed as the owners are now asking for more government money. Should the Tiger fail again, is the easy solution a conversion to city-subsidized student housing? How does this accomplish the goal of professional adults living downtown? Additionally, the Tiger also offers no plan for adequate parking.

CLAIM: These developments will stimulate the downtown economy.

RECONSIDER: Ironically, these developments may actually harm the downtown economy. Any TIF development will have a 20 percent economic advantage. This puts any other project at a tremendous disadvantage and may discourage and prevent other future, tax-paying developments. For example, why would any commercial or residential renter pay 20 percent more to lease in a tax-paying project? The honest, responsible tax-paying developer is at a tremendous economic disadvantage.

CLAIM: The TIF tax advantage will not be deleterious to the Columbia Public Schools as these developments will not be sending any children to the public schools.

RECONSIDER: The idea that only properties housing children should pay for the schools is ludicrous. All non-exempt real estate properties pay taxes. A “free education system” needs a little common sense understanding: it is not “free”; it is paid for largely by the property tax system. Astoundingly, only 20 percent of the households in Columbia have school-age children, but homes and businesses without school-age children pay taxes to support our schools. Proud communities and property owners support their public schools and do not shirk that responsibility: 60 percent of Columbia Public Schools' budget comes from property taxes. If you want to “blight” a community, stop supporting public schools. Deleterious to public schools is deleterious to community.

It is time for all parties to be responsible citizens of our community and all share in the expense that keeps Columbia the place where we want to live. These TIF developments are selfish and not about supporting the community in which they flourish. If these TIF developments want to build in this appealing community, let them share the tax burden that supports it: share in the richness of the Columbia community and share the expense of maintaining it.

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