Is This How Trust Is Regained?
After voters rejected implementing a local use tax in November, the Columbia City Council made it their mission to win back the trust of voters by being wise stewards of taxpayer money. Councilman Matt Pitzer talked about how to go about the task:
We do that by making smart financial and fiscal decisions . . . and being open and transparent in our spending and where the citizens’ tax dollars are going.
This commitment to good government is admirable. So why would the Columbia City Council vote 5-3 in favor of approving the Broadway TIF after the Columbia TIF Commission overwhelmingly voted 8-3 against the proposal?
For several months, a developer who owns The Broadway Columbia Hotel, has been trying to convince the TIF Commission to declare 1104 E. Walnut St. a redevelopment area so that he can qualify to receive $2 million in taxpayer subsidies to expand. To support this effort, the developer claimed in his development plan (pp. 4–5) that the building meets the “Conservation Area” criteria for TIF eligibility because it is 56 years old and “displays obsolescence due to age, ongoing vacancy, and deferred maintenance of external items like the roof and gutters.”
Furthermore, the developer claimed in testimony provided to the TIF council on October 30 that while not blighted yet, the redevelopment area may qualify due to excessive vacancies, litter, and alcohol containers on the grounds. Should taxpayers be asked to pick up the tab for cleaning the area up, or should it be the responsibility of the property owner?
The developer also noted that without TIF assistance, potential investors and lenders said they would not be willing to join the project because the financial risk would be too great. And yet, in a letter sent to the commission, the Boone County Auditor pointed out that “just a few blocks west of the parcel in question . . . a multi-story office building is currently under construction [and] is proceeding without TIF financing on a smaller lot than the subject lot, and at a significant investment … of several million dollars.” If similar projects can proceed without subsidy, then can’t this one as well?
Finally, the Boone County Assessor has warned that over its 23-year life, the TIF arrangement would divert $4.3 million away from schools, libraries, and municipal services—but the hotel expansion is projected to produce only $695,000 in tax revenue. Proponents say this diversion of money will lead to job growth. However, this argument is at odds with multiple studies that have concluded that TIF has no demonstrable effect on job creation. Is this the sort of smart fiscal decision-making that is supposed to regain the trust of the voters?
Last year, the Missouri Legislature passed a law stating that if a city passes a TIF over the objection of a TIF commission, then the money raised from it can only be used towards the demolition and clearing of the site. Unfortunately, the law only applies to Saint Louis County, Saint Charles County, and Jefferson County. Maybe it’s time to include Boone County—or the rest of Missouri—under the law.