When City Leaders Aren’t Concerned, Taxpayers Should Be
In a recent story in The Kansas City Star about cost overruns for the downtown convention hotel, Steve Vockrodt wrote:
City manager Troy Schulte said he wasn’t concerned about the increased price of the hotel since cost overruns are covered by the developer.
“We are actually getting a better project with lower public commitment,” Schulte said.
This seemed ominously familiar to me. A quick search confirmed my suspicions. Back in 2009, Vockrodt wrote in the Kansas City Business Journal about Cordish’s effort to reduce the property valuation for the Power & Light District. He included this:
Kansas City Councilman Ed Ford said he was told by city attorneys that the Power & Light District’s dispute would not put the city on the hook financially.
“It looks like the city is not going to have a dog in the hunt on that,” Ford said.
But of course it did affect the city because a low property tax assessment meant Cordish paid less in property taxes, which in turn meant there was less TIF money available to apply to bond payments. And because city leaders committed Kansas City taxpayers to paying any bond shortfall, we very much did have a dog in that hunt.
This doesn’t mean that hotel cost overruns will necessarily cost the city—unless the hotel so underperforms that taxpayers are told they need to add amenities to improve performance, exactly as has happened in the past. When it comes to publicly financed projects, being told by city leaders that there is no cause for concern seems itself to be a cause to be concerned.