With Brookridge package on the table in Overland Park, county commission debates its role in tax incentive proposals

Commissioner Michael Ashcraft made a motion to remand the Brookridge tax incentives proposal, a sign of frustration with the amount of time the county commission has been given to consider TIF packages. The county and school district have veto power over some tax incentive package requests presented to city councils. File photo.

Increased public pressure about tax incentives and the Brookridge development briefly caused county commissioners to debate their role in the project’s future Thursday.

The commission was getting an update about the Dec. 2 public hearing scheduled for the Overland Park golf course redevelopment when Commissioner Michael Ashcraft suggested commissioners “remand it back.” The package requested by the developer includes more than $200 million in incentives through tax increment financing and a community improvement district.

A rendering of part of the first phase of the proposed Brookridge multi-use project.

Although it’s too late for the commission to veto a tax increment financing district for the project, commissioners took the opportunity to express some frustration that information on how public financing could affect the county comes later than they would like.

The county commission gets notices of various tax abatements and TIF districts at nearly every meeting. In the past they have not interfered or commented much, saying it’s a decision best left to the cities. But as the tax deals have drawn more public scrutiny, commissioners have begun asking for more input from the cities.

They went ahead with Ashcraft’s motion, defining it as more of a request for communication.

Chairman Ed Eilert at first refused to put Ashcraft’s motion up for discussion because the cities should be most responsible for the tax breaks, he said. Tax revenue on Brookridge will go up over time because of the development, he said.

“I think it would be a major mistake for this body to put themselves in the position of deciding which projects move forward and which do not,” Eilert said.

But some other commissioners said they would like more communication with the cities. The commission doesn’t get much information on the financing deals until it comes in a county manager’s report, they said.

Commissioner Mike Brown said that after a recent meeting with officials from Lenexa, Overland Park and Olathe, he assumed there will be more information available so the commission doesn’t operate in a vacuum.

“I would also point out there’s this little thing that occurs in odd-numbered years in November called an election. Several things in Overland Park changed. There may be a different temperature and a different flavor in what direction they want to head going forward,” Brown said. Incumbents Terry Happer Scheier and Richard Collins lost re-election Tuesday to city council in Overland Park.

Although Brown said the payback will probably be worth it on Brookridge, he looks forward to more from the cities in future developments.

Commissioner Becky Fast said a lot of people got involved in the election because they are angry about Brookridge, but added the city should be the government to make the decision on whether it goes forward.

“I don’t feel like I should be weighing in at this point,” Fast said.

Commissioner Janeé Hanzlick agreed that the commission should watch the project closely but, “I don’t agree that forcing the city to provide us with that information is going to be helpful at this point.” Brookridge is in Hanzlick’s district.

The commission voted down Ashcraft’s proposal with Fast abstaining and Ashcraft the only yes vote.