The Shawnee Mission School District on Wednesday sent out a notice for a special meeting of the Board of Education to hold a veto vote on the TIF deal that would make a new 88-acre public park on the Meadowbrook Country Club property possible.
The move sent shockwaves through northeast Johnson County political circles, with some Prairie Village officials and residents stunned by what they view as a complete about-face from the Board of Education.
“For over a year the Shawnee Mission School Board has been very positive and wanting Meadowbrook to become a reality,” said John Anderson, the Prairie Village resident who co-founded the Northeast Johnson County Conservatives group, and who stays plugged in to many political issues in the area. “They approved of the TIF financing. Last Monday at the School Board meeting, there was a last minute 180 degree flip flop.”
According to several sources familiar with the discussions between the district and the city, Prairie Village officials had been in discussions with the district about the proposed deal since the city, county and developer began working on the project months ago. As a result, when Board of Education Members Patty Mach and Cindy Neighbor took a hostile tone toward Prairie Village Mayor Laura Wassmer and bond counsel Jeff White on Monday, the Prairie Village representatives were more than a bit caught off guard.
“They had been assured that there was no objection to the project,” said one source.
The district — one of two entities that holds veto powers over TIF deals under state law — has been making public comments for months about how it was closely examining how the dozens of TIF deals in Johnson County in recent years may be putting a dent in district finances. But many in the Prairie Village contingent are wondering why the district would choose the Meadowbrook park project, which unlike the vast majority of TIF project sends the diverted tax funds back to government to pay for parkland as opposed to into the pocket of a developer, as the project on which to take a stand.
After the meeting notice went out from the district Wednesday, Prairie Village Mayor Laura Wassmer sent an email message to the mayors of every other city in the school district’s boundaries, encouraging them to contact district officials.
“I found the School Board members arrogant and hostile,” Wassmer wrote. “If they are against a TIF that brings an 88-acre park to the community and provides the school district with millions in the long run, then your projects may be on the chopping block as well.”
In the note to the mayors, Wassmer noted that, once the TIF period had expired, the Meadowbrook project would likely result in tax revenues in excess of $1 million for the district. At present, the Meadowbrook property generates $65,000 per year for the district.
District spokeswoman Leigh Anne Neal said the board determined it needed to hold a meeting to determine how to proceed before the veto window closes Oct. 8. The special meeting is scheduled for Oct. 7 at 7:30 a.m. at the McEachen Center.
“The Shawnee Mission School District Board of Education is working toward adopting a policy related to tax increment financing, or TIF,” Neal said. “The upcoming special meeting has been scheduled in order for the board to receive any additional information and further discuss the matter as a group to determine how the board may wish to proceed regarding the Meadowbrook TIF proposal within the required timeline.”