In January, the Phelps County TIF Commission began a series of public hearings to foster discussion about bringing the Westside Marketplace Redevelopment Project to life in Rolla—with $22 million in public tax incentives, of course. In May the TIF Commission approved the proposal despite public opposition. The proposal will next go to the Phelps County Commission for final approval.
Proponents say the development will raise property values and increase sales tax revenue in Rolla through the construction of a Menards and four smaller retail stores yet to be named. But while new shopping options could be exciting for local residents, the financial impacts might not be.
Missouri law requires any developer asking for TIF to show that the project wouldn’t be undertaken without financial assistance. In the case of the Westside Marketplace proposal, justifications for the subsidies include inadequate street access, an old barn that may be unsanitary, and (here’s the real kicker) a portion of the TIF area being classified as a Special Flood Hazard Area with a 26% chance of flooding in the next 30 years.
Flood risks aside, the location is ideal from a commercial standpoint with Kings Highway steering in plenty of traffic. Still, if the potential for flooding is enough to make the developer reluctant, maybe it should make taxpayers think twice as well.
In addition to depriving the county of tax revenue, subsidizing a Menards that will compete with other home improvement stores is unfair. Stores such as Lowe’s and Meek’s that already operate in Rolla without subsidies will lose business to Menards, and the local community will lose tax revenue from any reallocated spending. This selection of winners and losers shouldn’t fall under government jurisdiction—something the Phelps County Commission should take into account when deciding if this TIF is worth the risks that come with it.