Boone County commissioners oppose tax district for downtown development

Monday, January 27, 2014 | 6:24 p.m. CST; updated 6:34 a.m. CST, Tuesday, January 28, 2014

COLUMBIA — The plan to finance improvements to the city's downtown electric and wastewater systems has encountered government opposition. 

The Boone County Commission, one of five taxing entities that could be affected by a proposed downtown tax increment financing district, rejected the city's plan. The three members of the commission are elected and oversee county government.

In a letter to city officials, commissioners questioned whether the city needs to move so swiftly, the necessity of public financing for infrastructure needed to accommodate private developers and the amount of tax revenues diverted for downtown infrastructure.

Tax increment financing laws allow local governments to freeze property and sales taxes within segments of a city. Government officials can then reallocate any additional taxes, gained from property improvements or growth in sales, to a fund for infrastructure or other projects. Tax increment financing districts can last for as long as 23 years. 

The county commission's letter is the first official opposition to the proposed taxing district, though members of the Columbia City Council and members of the Columbia Public Schools Board questioned the proposal last week.

In an interview on Friday, City Manager Mike Matthes said the final plan would ensure that the county would not be harmed and that the proposed financing district would make up only a small percentage of the county's tax base. 

The commissioners also criticized how quickly city officials have pushed the plan through, asserting that the city was not giving interested parties enough time to study the plan. 

"The TIF process underway is being rushed," the county commissioners wrote to Matthes, Mayor Bob McDavid and members of the council.

The commission also pressed city officials on the question of why tax revenue should be diverted to cover infrastructure needed to support a flood of private high-density residential development. 

"There has been no public discussion about why these business enterprises need a bailout of taxpayer funds," the commissioners wrote. "Private development is clamoring to build downtown, and private capital must be part of a solution to fund the infrastructure that their private development requires." 

Those comments mirrored those made by Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala at a meeting Tuesday evening about sharing the costs with developers. City officials have maintained that without a downtown taxing district to pay for electric and sewer projects, developers won't build. 

"A TIF is meant to fund projects that the market won't," Matthes told the council last Tuesday. "If projects were going to happen anyway, a TIF would be foolish." 

The county commissioners disagreed, saying that the eagerness of developers seeking to build downtown makes it unlikely they would abandon projects if a financing district was not established. 

"With all of the private development interest in the downtown area, it is doubtful the 'but-for' test of a TIF can be met," commissioners wrote. 

The commission has asked city officials to terminate the current tax increment financing plan and consider other financing options. 

Supervising editor is John Schneller.

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Tracy Greever-Rice January 28, 2014 | 12:08 p.m.

The TIF district issue should NOT be on the table until the recommendations for updating the city of Columbia zoning code and planning & zoning commission process have been vetted by city staff and public input and the agreed-upon revisions enacted.

Rushing through a GARGANTUAN, sprawling TIF district to facilitate out-of-town and out-of-state developers getting in their projects while the central city still essentially has no zoning restrictions smacks of smoky backroom politics, glad handing and deal making.

Or, if all this is about is Hank getting his historical society, for heaven's sakes, let's give Hank his project-specific TIF and move on. It would be pretty ironic to destroy the cultural heritage and history of the city's core to build an institution devoted to preserving just those very valuable assets.

Let's get in place genuine, meaningful oversight, transparency, and appropriate scale and aesthetic restrictions BEFORE giving away our central city for wholesale redevelopment. Among many other necessary revisions, Columbia needs to adopt an environmental impact assessment of on-site and downstream impacts prior to assessing impact fees to developers - and developers do need to pay for their own projects, not the tax payers.

If we were fortunate enough to find ourselves in situation where honest brokers were behaving with integrity, there's simply no way any appropriate-scale, for-profit downtown project could meet the 'but for' provision required to establish a TIF project. More generally, the Columbia tax base (you know, 'citizens') doesn't need to be subsidizing developers and lenders out of New York, Texas, St. Louis, and especially from here. Particularly when the new developments actually put the existing use and quality of life of local property owners at risk. It's also not fair to existing local developers who paid their own way and whose good work has stimulated the 'boom' interesting to outside and insider interests.

Isn't local government supposed to be working in the best interests of its actual citizens?

If we're going to invest in infrastructure redevelopment, let's start with addressing the quality of sewer, storm water, and roads in the central neighborhoods instead of once again putting those long-term, invested, permanent residential and commercial property owners at the end of list, far, far behind any large scale developer that glances at Columbia for 15 minutes and the local law firms and bankers that profit from their pillage.

NO TIFs until the zoning code revision is complete!

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams January 28, 2014 | 1:07 p.m.

"...and developers do need to pay for their own projects, not the tax payers."

I have no problems with long as YOU pay for your OWN road resurfacing, sidewalk repairs, sewer repairs, electrical upgrades, and the like in your OWN neighborhoods, including downtown. Someone who lives 3 miles away should not have to pay for your repairs if you also require they pay their entire own way sans you.

(Report Comment)
Tracy Greever-Rice January 28, 2014 | 1:42 p.m.

Theoretically, residential property owners do, 'Michael'. It's called 'property tax'. And my 20'5" city residential street (developed 65 years ago) doesn't have sidewalks, curbs, or gutters, nor has it been repaved in the decade that I've lived there. And it's my understanding from our neighborhood association's historical records that the original developers did, in fact, put in the infrastructure. The city replaces transformers when they blow, but there has certainly not been any pro-active electrical upgrades since I moved in.

Our neighborhood is on the very, very, very long list for public-side new sewers (street to easement). The city held sewer planning meetings four years ago and work has yet to commence. Residential property developers whine all the time that any infrastructure they have to pay for will simply be 'passed along' to the consumer (a briar patch problem from my perspective). So, I think you got your way.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams January 28, 2014 | 3:46 p.m.

That's a good thing, Tracy! Like I said....I support developers paying their own way, so long as those wishing such a thing pay their OWN way when their OWN infrastructure work is needed.

Which yours will, matter how far down the "list" you happen to be.

What I don't favor is central city folks wanting OTHER folks to pay THEIR own way, but then want everyone to contribute their "fair share" when central city infrastructure projects are needed.

PS: Besides, developers contribute NOTHING to this community while they are here...or when they leave. Well, there's the folks who move in and pay taxes and eat and buy clothes and drink beer and create commerce and what-all, but that's a rather poor trade, don't you think?

You mentioned your neighborhood was once created by a developer.

(Report Comment)

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