A Kansas City Council committee heard plenty of opinions about how or if the city should adopt a new policy on its use of economic development incentives, but no decision was reached Wednesday.
Instead, members of the Planning, Zoning & Economic Development Committee will consider testimony offered about the merits and shortcomings of the ordinance and perhaps craft a revised version. Another discussion is expected to be held next week.
Members of the committee did not tip their hands publicly about their opinions or leanings on the ordinance. The ordinance has four co-sponsors on the five-member committee, but each took a measured approach with comments about the ordinance.
That contrasted with 21 people who testified about the ordinance, which generally seeks to limit by one-fourth the level of property tax abatements and tax redirections that various economic development incentive programs can offer for a private development, save for a few exceptions.
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Testimony came from administrators from school districts that spanned from the Platte County R-III School District at the northern edge of Kansas City to Center School District in south Jackson County, as well as development attorneys, activists and former elected officials.
Most voiced reserved support for the notion of the ordinance, spearheaded by 3rd District at-large Councilman Quinton Lucas.
R. Crosby Kemper III, CEO of the Kansas City Public Library, said he would fully support a version of the ordinance if it stripped out a number of exceptions that would allow economic development projects to go beyond the 75 percent cap on tax abatements and redirections. Those exceptions in the current version of the ordinance include projects that bring in numerous and well-paying jobs, historic preservation projects, and developments in economically distressed parts of town.
Kemper said Kansas City’s frequent use of incentives has diverted enough money from the library system, which gets about 90 percent of its revenue from property taxes, that the library’s revenue growth hasn’t kept up with inflation over the last 15 years.
Roxsen Koch, a development attorney for the Polsinelli law firm, said development with incentives can offer benefits for taxing jurisdictions such as Kemper’s. She pointed to an office tower at 4600 Madison Avenue that’s currently occupied by the Bernstein-Rein advertising firm and others.
When the project was proposed in 1984, Koch said, the property generated less than than $1,000 in taxes. In 2015, she said, the developed project generated $454,773 in taxes now that its tax abatement has expired and the project is back on the tax rolls.