For months now, Shawnee Mission School District officials have raised concerns about the barrage of Tax Increment Financing projects proposed in the area, suggesting that the district may consider exercising veto power over a deal if they believe it damages the district’s tax base.
On Monday, they showed they weren’t kidding.
Top administrators and members of the Board of Education subjected representatives from Prairie Village and the Johnson County Park and Recreation District to sometimes hostile questioning about the multi-party deal that would lead to the creation of a new 88-acre public park on the former Meadowbrook Country Club property.
Prairie Village Mayor Laura Wassmer and Jeff White, the Columbia Capital Management director representing the city as it prepares to issue bonds for the project, made a presentation to the Board of Education highlighting the financial benefits the park and surrounding developments would have on the area’s tax base for decades to come.
Wassmer told the board Prairie Village had only used TIF once before in its 64-year history, on the Brighton Gardens development that brought a new senior living community to a swath of land that had previously contained 15 single family homes. When the TIF package was passed for that project back in 1998, the 15 homes were generating just under $6,000 in tax revenue for the school district. This year, SMSD will collect more than $90,000 in tax proceeds from Brighton Gardens. Had the 15 single family homes remained, SMSD’s proceeds today would have been just $14,000 a year. Wassmer told the board that the Meadowbrook project would likely have a similar long-term benefit to the district’s finances, even if it diverted tax revenue from the district for a period of years.
But some members of the board were skeptical of the need to use TIF for the project. SM Northwest area representative Patty Mach asked Wassmer and White why “a city with some of the wealthiest zip codes in Johnson County” needed to rely on public financing for a project.
Wassmer reminded Mach that, unlike the vast majority of TIF deals, the tax increment financing proceeds from the proposed Meadowbrook project would be going to the city to help pay off the bonds that will be issued to purchase the park land, and not back into the pocket of a private developer.
At-large board member Cindy Neighbor asked why the county didn’t simply purchase the park land itself, saying she had spoken to members of the county commission and that they had indicated the funds for such a transaction were there.
Executive Director of Parks & Recreation Jill Geller quickly disabused Neighbor of that notion.
“I think I need to talk to the commissioners you are talking to,” Geller said. “We absolutely do not have that money in our budget.”
Geller went on to say that she believed the proposed TIF package for the Meadowbrook project would be in the best interests of all involved parties — including the school district — in the long term.
“To me this project is the perfect inter-governmental cooperative project,” she said. “We all have a financial stake… Our goal is to make a park that is beautiful, that brings people to our community, that raises the property value of homes within its proximity and that benefits all of us down the line.”
The tenor of some of the questioning from the board challenged the assertion made to the Prairie Village City Council earlier this year that the project was unlikely to face opposition from either of the entities that hold veto power over TIF packages, the school district and the county government.
Superintendent Jim Hinson told the group that the district was in the process of developing a formal policy to guide its standing on TIF projects as more than a dozen have been initiated in the area recently.
The school district will have until mid-October to exercise its veto power over the proposed Meadowbrook deal.