Discord may be in store on the Overland Park City Council tonight as new member Scott Hamblin and mayoral candidate Faris Farassati try to rescind a tax abatement that was strongly favored by nine of the twelve-member council.
Hamblin and Farassati say the abatement is clouded by a faulty cost analysis and ethical concerns because of a family connection between one council member and a company official. But one council member who supported the tax break counters that it is a political move.
Farassati and Hamblin said Friday they plan to call for a reversal on the council’s Dec. 16 decision to grant a ten-year property tax abatement to Dimensional Innovations, an architectural design and fabrication company on the city’s extreme northern edge. The abatement starts at 50 percent, but has the potential to grow to 65 percent under certain conditions.
If December’s discussion is any indication, the council may be headed for a first test of how the three new members will interact on what could be a contentious issue. Tax incentives were a major part of the campaign season in which two incumbents were defeated.
In December, most council members took turns supporting the move, citing the cost analysis and saying again and again it would help a part of the city that, in the words of a DI official, “needs a little love.”
But anger bubbled over when Farassati, the lone “no” vote, argued that the cost data didn’t support the incentives. In reaction, Councilmember Chris Newlin, who sat next to Farassati, slammed down his hand, saying, “Jesus! It’s right here in your face!” Later, Councilmember Fred Spears said he would take the unusual step of a direct public confrontation with another council member by noting that Farassati, a doctor, has supported incentives for a project at Menorah Medical Center. “I think you’re letting your bias show,” he said.
Family connections to former council member prompt questions
Dimensional Innovations, at 3421 Merriam Drive, designs and builds distinctive architectural features on public buildings and has a national footprint. The company designed the large book spines on Kansas City’s downtown library, as well as the Kansas City Royals Hall of Fame.
Its headquarters is just off the intersection of Interstates 35 and 635, near the junction of Merriam and Kansas City, Kan. with Overland Park. Company officials want the abatement to help them expand at their current site, which is located in an area dominated by used car sales and mechanical companies.
The company estimated it would add 225 people to its 187-person workforce over the next ten years. According to a computer-generated cost-benefit analysis, that would result in a total of 705 direct and ripple-effect jobs over the same time period. That analysis said the city would get $3.51 back for every dollar invested. Other taxing districts were estimated to get a wide range of return on the dollar, from $7.29 for the state of Kansas to $1.72 for Johnson County Community College.
Hamblin and Farassati now say the abatement should be rescinded. In explaining their reasoning, they note that the company CFO is Tom Collins, son of former councilmember Rick Collins, that the application was made shortly after Hamblin defeated Collins in November and voted on before the new council members took their seats.
“If that doesn’t raise some suspicion then I think you’ve got to have your head in the sand,” Hamblin said.
Collins recused himself from the discussion and abstained from the vote. Councilmember John Thompson was absent the night the incentive was passed, 9-1.
According to Hamblin’s research, the analysis used an incorrect multiplier to figure how many jobs would be created. He and Farassati say the company was already invested in buying nearby property, negating their argument that they might have to move out of Overland Park without the incentives.
Farassati said the incentives are not offered to smaller companies. “If we’re going down this path, who is a qualified candidate for it?” he said. “That’s why Overland Park is getting criticized that it is only in business for the big boys.”
Lyons says move is ‘politically motivated’
Councilmember Paul Lyons called the reasoning “absurd, ridiculous and outrageous.”
“I think the whole purpose here is to push forward Faris’s campaign for mayor,” he said. “I think they’re trying to put doubts in people’s minds that something nefarious is going on here and that something isn’t right.”
The company was clear about its options without the incentives, Lyons said. The fact that it was invested in adjacent property before the vote only proves officials were keeping their options open, he said, adding that it was reasonable for company officials to take their case up before the new members took office.
Unless more council members abandon their enthusiasm for the expansion, it seems unlikely that the incentives will be rescinded. Under the rules, a rescission would be asked for tonight and then discussed at the following council meeting. But since Farassati voted no, a supermajority will be needed to bring the matter back up.
“They know they’re not going to get the votes to make this happen,” Lyons said. “If this was a legitimate concern they had, then there are avenues for them to go to deal with through our staff and through the mayor and through the council and not through the press. The fact that they’re going to the press tells me that it’s politically motivated, for the purposes of supporting Faris’s campaign. I’m irritated by it because it gives me the impression that we’re going to see this kind of nonsense going on for the next two years.”