The Cass County Democrat Missourian has a great story on the Belton School District learning that it was getting almost $500,000 less in property tax revenue than it should due to miscalculated TIF values.
As it turns out, the error might have been in the system since 1991, making it older than all of the students in the Belton School District. Pretty embarrassing.
But there is also a lesson we can learn from this.
In SMI’s 20 for 2020, we recommended requiring clear tax incentive reporting by cities on their financial statements. As we wrote:
“Consistent with recommendations from the Governing Accounting Standards Board, Missouri cities should clearly identify in their financial statements the projects that the city is, and will be, subsidizing. Moreover, each city should be required to publish every tax incentive liability that it has incurred, proving this information either as a part of a city’s financial statement or as an annually produced and readily available separate document. If local officials want to spend taxpayers’ money on other taxpayers, that money should be clearly and regularly disclosed.”
Perhaps if the city and county had made these figures easier to access, such an error—that over time cost the children of the Belton School District a huge sum of money—would have been caught earlier.