Shawnee appoints councilmembers with opposing views on tax incentives to economic development group

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By Jerry LaMartina

Two members of the Shawnee City Council with widely different views on the wisdom of using public finance incentives to spark growth have been appointed to two-year terms on the city’s Economic Development Council.

Ward 2 Councilman Eric Jenkins and Ward 3 Councilwoman Stephanie Meyer will serve on the Shawnee Economic Development Council (SEDC) board through Jan. 1, 2020. Mayor Michelle Distler recommended their appointments.

The appointments follow a revised agreement made at the council’s Nov. 13 meeting to place two council members on the SEDC Advisory Committee. The city and the Shawnee Chamber of Commerce formed the SEDC in 1994 as “the lead to market Shawnee for new and expanding businesses and general promotion of the community,” according to the SEDC website.

Jenkins was elected to the council in April 2015, and his council term will expire in January 2020. He served on the Shawnee Planning Commission for 21 years and on the Johnson County Charter Commission in 2011. He worked for the Federal Emergency Management Agency for 30 years and is a retired colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves, with more than 34 years of active and reserve duty.

Meyer joined the council in October 2013 to fill a Ward 3 vacancy and was elected to her first full term in April 2015, which will expire in January 2020. She is a project development manager for McCownGordon Construction LLC and president of the Shawnee Rotary Club. Earlier, she was director of external affairs for the Kansas Bioscience Authority and press secretary for former Kansas Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh.

An indicator of philosophical differences between Jenkins and Meyer emerged at the council’s Nov. 14 meeting during a discussion about possible public incentives for the proposed $110 million mixed-use Westbrooke Green development at the northeast corner of 75th Street and Quivira Road.

“Can we just continue to give everything away and receive nothing in return as a community?” Jenkins said at the meeting. “That’s about our only asset, really, is developable property in this community, and that’s where we derive our revenue, that and taxes… I don’t see how this is sustainable and how we can make ends meet.”

Meyer said at the meeting that she hated “the classification that we’re looking at economic development as it is as a tax giveaway.” Addressing Jenkins, she said: “That is absolutely untrue, and I will fight you on it every time you say it.” Later in the meeting, she said she thought it was “reckless and dangerous to be putting out those complete misstatements of fact about economic development.”

The council passed an ordinance at its Nov. 14 meeting to establish a tax-increment financing (TIF) redevelopment district at the Westbrooke Green site and approved resolutions to hold a public hearing on Dec. 18 to consider adopting the TIF project plan and to hold concurrent public hearings on Dec. 18 to consider creating a community improvement district (CID) and levying a CID sales tax.

The developer — MP Westbrooke North LLC, a joint venture of Mission Peak Capital, based in Kansas City, Mo., and New York City, and Extell Development Co., based in New York City — would spend about $85 million on the project and seeks about $25.5 million in city-approved public funding. The public financing contribution would comprise $19.5 million in TIF for 20 years and $6 million from a CID, which would levy a 1.5 percent sales tax on businesses in the district for 22 years.

TIF is a public financing tool by which a developer of a blighted property is reimbursed for eligible development and infrastructure costs using the increment of new property or sales tax revenue generated by the development. TIF is based on the “but-for” principle, meaning consideration is given to whether a development wouldn’t be financially feasible but for TIF.