Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Last night, I attended the Kansas City School Board's special meeting at Paseo Fine Arts Academy, where board members and community members discussed which schools should be closed during these tough financial times for the district. Howard Townsend, one of the community representatives made an exceptionally good presentation. One of his questions really caught my attention. He asked, “Why wasn’t the City more involved with the school districts?”

He made the point several times in several ways that the City -- both staff and elected officials -- should be more involved in the process the district is going through to decided which new abandoned buildings to create in the neighborhoods. He asked, “Why can we build stadiums and wonderful office buildings and not maintain good school buildings?”

He said that the district and the City should work more closely together so that the district’s activities and the City’s redevelopment efforts are mutually supportive.

I think he’s right, and as Mayor I plan to make sure that happens.

One way I know I can be of immediate help to the district is to continue to take a hard look at Kansas City's program to give tax incentives to developers. In the mid '90s, I produced a memorandum to the City Council, at the request of Aggie Stackhaus, outlining the impact tax incentives have on our schools, which depend significantly on property tax.

Since then, my staff and I have produced numerous audits detailing challenges that have arisen as a result of its use of TIF. One such audit produced in 2003 found that:
Despite previous recommendations from this office and its own external auditor, the TIF Commission has not established basic internal controls to safeguard, manage, and account for the public dollars for which it is responsible... Our findings raise serious concerns about developer reimbursements in prior years and about the $228 million that the TIF Commission has approved but not yet paid to developers.
In our review of Kansas City's budget for fiscal year 2005, we revealed that the amount of tax revenue spent on TIF projects had tripled since 2000, from $15 million to $45 million, despite a lack of an actual TIF policy. This lack of policy resulted in instances in which:
  • TIF is used when it is not necessary. Some projects may be economically feasible without public subsidy.
  • TIF projects perform below expectations, requiring additional public support.
  • TIF projects capture tax revenues that would otherwise be available to the city, i.e., sales, earnings, and utility taxes.
  • TIF districts move an existing tax base, shifting tax revenue funding city services to a developer.
  • TIF supports growth within a district, but hurts growth outside the district by a greater amount.
This affects the entire city -- including our schools. And that's all the schools within the city's borders, not just in the urban core.

As mayor, I intend to reach out to school leaders. But, perhaps more importantly, I intend to make sure that Kansas City's tax-incentive program works, so that schools won't continue to be shortchanged.

No comments: