Do Boonville and Cooper County Need $40 Million?
Developers have asked the City of Boonville for a tax-increment financing (TIF) subsidy to “help” them build a new subdivision for 400 homes in Boonville. (Well, in Boonville if the annexation request is also approved.) There are many reasons why this is outrageous, starting with the obscenity that one developer gets a $40 million tax break while everyone else has to keep paying the same tax levels.
One of the many serious flaws with the TIF process is that it empowers cities to make financial decisions that impact other taxing districts far more than the city itself. Boonville is happy to surrender decades worth of property taxes to the developer because Boonville is substantially funded by sales and gaming taxes. It is the school district, the county, and other taxing districts which are funded at a much higher percentage by property taxes that take the real hit here.
Boonville itself may be well-funded by the gaming taxes, but are other taxing districts in the region awash in tax revenues? Based on comments from the Cooper County Health Department administrator, I would imagine not. As she described funding in her office during the pandemic:
Melanie Hutton, administrator for the Cooper County Public Health Center in rural Missouri, pointed out the local ambulance department got $18,000, and the fire and police departments got masks to fight COVID-19.
“For us, not a nickel, not a face mask,” she said. “We got (5) gallons of homemade hand sanitizer made by the prisoners.”
To be clear, she was referring specifically to funding from the state and federal governments, but I think it is clear that her own department is lacking the proper resources to deal with the pandemic. The Cooper County Health Department is primarily funded by property taxes, the very taxes that the Boonville City Council (which has no authority over the Cooper County Health Department) will impact with the TIF vote.
The fact that the city council gets to reduce funds for the county health department is absurd. But that is how the tax subsidy, abatement, and credit game works. How does a local community win that game? Well, as the wily computer told a young Mr. Carrie Bradshaw in “War Games” many years ago, the only winning move is not to play.