Merriam City Council candidates on the issues: When, if ever, are public finances incentives appropriate?

The former Hen House at Merriam Town Center has been vacant since last summer.

Last month, we asked our readers what issues they wanted to hear the candidates running for local office address ahead of the August primary. Based on the (ample) input we received, we developed a five-item questionnaire for candidates running for city council in Merriam.

Today, we begin publishing the candidates’ responses. The first question was as follows:

In recent years, developers have become increasingly likely to seek public finance incentives like tax increment financing and community improvement district sales taxes to pay for parts of their private projects. What’s your stance on the use of such incentives? When, if ever, is it appropriate to commit public finances to private real estate projects?

City Council Ward 4

Staci Chivetta

I believe that the city should be very careful about incentives to help push private development along. In some cases, such as where the city will make more in sales tax on the revenue generated from the development then what it would make on property taxes, I think it is a smart decision. This allows the city to increase revenue without raising property tax on Merriam residents. I believe that working to help give incentives to developers that have long standing ties to the Greater Kansas City area is a smarter decision than to a developer that is out of state or a newer less established developer. For instance, I believe that establishing a Community Improvement District at the Kmart site at Shawnee Mission Parkway and Antioch could be a good use of an incentive because with this specific property the owner is local to the area and with a CID the city has a little bit more control over what the developer does. I think this could definitely be a good use of incentives to hopefully encourage the developer to bring a grocery store in to the site.

Sam Matier

Bringing new business to Merriam is generally a good thing. Merriam should carefully look at projects that are proposed that use tax project financing components. TIFs are tools that should be used wisely. Merriam is geographically located to offer an advantage to retailers like car dealers and retailers like IKEA and Hobby Lobby. With I 35 running through the middle of Merriam, we already offer a natural market. We should not have to pay public funds to attract some retailers. Now we need a grocery store. The developer of Town Center where the old Hen House grocery was located wanted a long term lease with a large increase in rent so Hen House left. DDR, now Site Centers, was very cooperative with the city when they were getting TIF payments. When the TIF ended, the cooperation ended and Site Centers seems to have no interest in bringing a grocery store to the community that paid them so much in TIF funds. Maybe we should have tried to get Town Center built without a TIF and we would have a grocery store today.

Bob Pape (incumbent)

I fully support the use of Tax Increment Financing (TIF) under the right circumstances. We have used TIF for a number of years in Merriam. There are many projects such as Merriam Town Center, Merriam Village, Hampton Inn and IKEA that would not have occurred without the use of TIF. The I-35 TIF district has allowed us to attract numerous car dealerships. These businesses have provided hundreds of jobs and they generate astronomical revenue through sales tax. They still provide property tax as well and that will increase when the TIF expires. Merriam gets 53% of its revenue through sales tax. Considering our pull factor of 4 to 1, much of our revenue is generated by people who live outside of Merriam. For every person that lives in Merriam and pays sales tax, there are 4 people who live outside of Merriam paying this tax. This allows us to keep our property tax rates at the same Mill rate. I do not believe that we currently have any community improvement district sales tax locations. We pay the same sales tax throughout the entire city. Most people do not realize that these districts exist. They are paying a higher sales tax on their purchase in this type of district. This seems a little deceptive to me, even though it is printed on their receipt what they paid. I would be more reluctant to use this type of incentive to attract business. These incentives and TIF are not allowed to be used to pay for the brick and mortar of a business. They can be used to prepare the ground, parking lots, streets, and address other concerns prior to a building being erected. A great example is the huge ditch that is located around 7200 W Frontage. This ditch would never produce any type of income for our City without the use of TIF funds. With the use of the funds, it will someday be a level lot that will have an Automobile dealership built on it. As a result, it will produce many more jobs and generate additional revenue for the City.

City Council Ward 1

John Canterbury

Did not respond.

Dennis Miles

Did not respond.

Brian Shapley

Did not respond.

Jason Silvers (incumbent)

I am not a fan of public finance incentives for developers but am willing to make exceptions for responsible developers whose business plan includes contributing back to the city through strong sales tax revenue. Before moving to Merriam, I witnessed many instances where developers were given TIF money without consideration of the burden on taxpayers. To ensure public finance incentives are handed out responsibly, developers must be fully vetted, past projects researched for sustainability, and involvement in the community proven. A developer must fit in like a neighbor, not as a pox on the community.

Tomorrow we’ll publish the candidates’ responses to item number two:

With construction of the new community center under way, the city has been seeking input from residents on the future of the Irene B. French Community Center building. What would you like to see happen with the property and why?