A Wichita city report provides a somber look at the finances of a tax increment financing district.
The City of Wichita Department of Finance has prepared an update on the financial performance of the Old Town Cinema Tax Increment Financing (TIF) District. There’s not much good news in this document. The financial performance would be worse if the city had included the costs of the no-interest and low-interest loan made to the owners of property in this TIF district. But it doesn’t appear that those costs are included. Here’s an excerpt from the report:
In 2000, the appraised value of the southeast retail building and the Warren Theatre declined 12% (from $4.5 to $3.9 million) and 33% from ($4.4 to $2.9 million), respectively. These declines occurred as a result of property tax appeals, which were made by the TIF District’s primary developer. In addition, the total appraised value of the northeast and southeast retail buildings and the Warren Theatre remains more than $3.6 million below estimates in the project plan and overall values have not yet recovered to pre-2009 levels.
The “property tax appeals” referred to in this paragraph are the doing of David Burk. The Wichita Eagle reported at the time: “Downtown Wichita’s leading developer, David Burk, represented himself as an agent of the city — without the city’s knowledge or consent — to cut his taxes on publicly owned property he leases in the Old Town Cinema Plaza, according to court records and the city attorney.”
Several city officials expressed varying degrees of outrage with Burk’s action, with the city manager telling the Eagle that anyone has the right to appeal their taxes, but he added that ‘no doubt that defeats the purpose of the TIF.’”
Since then the city has granted several forms of subsidy to Burk and his partners.
The report from the finance department also told of problems with parking revenue:
Parking Revenue – The project plan assumed sufficient parking revenue cash flow over a fifteen-year period to provide $1.1 million towards principal debt obligations, assuming an interest rate of 4.5%. The Old Town Cinema TIF Fund has received substantially less parking revenue than was expected in the project plan. In some years, the TIF Fund has received no revenue from parking, and the highest amount received in any year was $51,130 (in 2008). From 2007, when the District first began receiving parking revenue, through 2013, a total of $153,130 in parking revenue has been transferred to the TIF Fund. Based on historical experience, additional parking revenue is not assumed and total parking revenue from 2004 to 2019 is conservatively projected at $153,130.
Later on, the report holds this:
Parking revenue collections are also substantially less than projected, because fees have not been increased as originally planned. The City’s general parking fee, which predates the Old Town Cinema TIF District, started at $7.50 per parking space per month. The fee was to increase to $25 per month over an eighteen-year period, with increases starting in approximately1996, according to Property Management. Fee increases never occurred, which were needed to pay for City parking activities. The general City fee differed slightly from that originally charged in the Old Town Cinema District, because the District initially charged a $10 per month fee, but this was reduced in about 2009 to $7.50 per month consistent with the parking fee charged elsewhere in the City, again according to Property Management.
The report also contains several financial statements. These statements do not contain a form of off-the-books support given to this TIF district. That was the no-interest and low-interest loan made to the Warren Theater, estimated to cost the city $1.2 million.
Click here to open the city’s report in a new window.
As Wichita voters consider spending $250 million expanding a water project, we should look at the project’s history. So far, the ASR program has not performed near expectations, even after revising goals downward.
In November Wichita voters will consider approval of a one cent per dollar sales tax. Of the $400 expected to be collected over five years, $250 million is earmarked for a new water source. The city has decided that the new water supply will be implemented through expansion of the Aquifer Storage and Recovery program or ASR. This is a program whereby water is taken from the Little Arkansas River, treated, and injected in the Equus Beds aquifer. That water is then available in the future as is other Equus Beds water.
The city believes that ASR is a proven technology that will provide water and drought protection for many years and recommends that voters approve $250 million for its expansion, although there is possibility that the cost may be $200 million.
According to city documents, the original capacity of the ASR phase II project to process water and pump it into the ground (the “recharge” process) was given as “Expected volume: 30 MGD for 120 days.” That translates to 3,600,000,000 (3.6 billion or 3,600 million) gallons per year. ASR phase II was completed in 2011.
At a city council workshop in April 2014, Director of Public Works and Utilities Alan King briefed the council on the history of ASR, mentioning the original belief that ASR would recharge 11,000 acre feet of water per year. But he gave a new estimate for production, telling the council that “What we’re finding is, we’re thinking we’re going to actually get 5,800 acre feet. Somewhere close to half of the original estimates.” The new estimate translates to 1,889,935,800 (1.9 billion or 1,900 million) gallons per year.
Based on experience, the city has produced a revised estimate of ASR production capability. What has been the actual experience of ASR? The U.S. Geological Survey has ASR figures available here. I’ve gathered the data and performed an analysis.
In 2013 ASR recharged 366 million gallons, or 19 percent of the newly revised estimate of production capacity. In 2014 through September, ASR recharged 275 million gallons, or 14 percent of capacity. Extrapolating this nine months of production to a full year results in 367 million gallons produced for 2014, or 19 percent of capacity, the same value as in 2013. This may or may not be valid, but it gives an idea of how 2014 is proceeding.
So for the two most recent years, the ASR system has not operated near its designed capacity, even after revising that capacity downwards by half.
To place these production figures in context, the city uses 56 million gallons per day, on average. So the annual production of the ASR project is about 6.5 days of water usage.
The ASR system is able to draw water from the river only when the flow is above a certain level, which is not every day of the year. So we may want to take a look at how the ASR system performs for shorter periods of time. Monthly data is available.
For a 30-day month, if the plant could be run at full design capacity each day, the production would be 900,000,000 (900 million) gallons. The best month ever for actual production was 192 million gallons, with the second best at 120 million gallons.
If we take the 12 best months for production, including before ASR Phase II started operations, the amount of water recharged is 924 million gallons. That’s 49 percent of the revised expected annual production of 1.9 billion gallons.
The cumulative deficit
I’ve produced a chart of the cumulative production of the Wichita ASR project compared with the original projections and the lower revised projections. The lines for projections rise smoothly, although it is expected that actual production is not smooth. The second phase of ASR was completed sometime in 2011, but no water was produced and recharged that year. So I started this chart with January 2012. Data is from U.S. Geological Survey.
Some have said that since 2013 was a drought year, it isn’t fair to evaluate the production of ASR during a drought. So to present ASR in the best possible light, I’ve prepared a chart starting in July 2013. That was when it started raining so much we had floods, and data from USGS shows that the flow in the Little Arkansas River was much greater. Still, the ASR project is not keeping up with projections, even after goals were lowered.
The city and the “Yes Wichita” campaign say the ASR project is proven and is working. The available data, however, does not support this claim.
Here is the cumulative production of the Wichita ASR project compared with the original projections and the lower revised projections. The second phase of ASR came online sometime in 2011, but no water was recharged that year. So I started this chart with January 2012. Data is from U.S. Geological Survey. (Click chart for larger version.)
The city and the “Yes Wichita” campaign say the ASR project is proven and is working. Do you agree?
The following was written by local geologist Karma Mason, who also serves on the State Water Board. What are the implications of moving forward with a rushed, poor plan? Mason explains what Wichita voters should consider as they vote in the proposed one cent per dollar sales tax. $250 million of the projected $400 million five-year sales tax is earmarked for a new water supply.
Over the past year, the city of Wichita has evaluated potential new water supply options. Recently, the city revealed enhancement of the aquifer storage and recovery project (ASR) as the preferred new supply. Although ASR enhancement may ultimately prove a viable option, there are still significant uncertainties.
First, a current state-level requirement prohibits the city from using any ASR-stored water should the Equus Beds become stressed during a drought.
Second, we have already spent more than $200 million on the ASR, and it has yet to significantly affect the amount of water stored in the Equus Beds.
Third, in a drought scenario (i.e., dust bowl), the Equus Beds will be over-utilized, resulting in accelerating the migration of the chloride plume to city supply wells. This likely will result in additional costs, beyond the proposed $250 million, to treat the chloride-containing water.
Fourth, there have been recent discussions at the state level about working with irrigators to lease their water rights to the city in a drought scenario, or even establishing a water bank for the area. These options could result in providing needed water in a dust bowl scenario at a much-reduced cost.
Finally, city representatives state that when using existing state guidelines for drought planning, Wichita already has adequate water for another 20-plus years.
Our community has an opportunity to work together to solve its long-term water needs. Fortunately, our current supply is adequate to allow more time for full evaluation of our options.
To help Kansans understand the options for future Kansas budgets, Kansas Policy Institute has produced a calculator that lets voters experiment with scenarios of their own making. Click here to view the calculator.
Wichita water rates are about average for households using modest amounts of water. But households using a lot of water pay much less than average, leading us to wonder if Wichita could adjust its rates to encourage conservation and/or generate more revenue.
Data from a 2012 Black & Veatch survey of water and sewer rates in 50 large cities reveals an interesting characteristic of water rates.
Many cities have tiered water rates, where as a household uses more water, the marginal cost per gallon rises. This is the case in Wichita. Each household has its average winter consumption (AWC) as measured during the winter months. Presumably this is the water that is used for cooking, cleaning, flushing, bathing, and other indoor household needs. For Wichita city customers, for usage up to 110 percent of this value, or AWC, the rate is $1.77 per thousand gallons. For water used from 111 percent to 310 percent of AWC, the rate is $6.25 per thousand gallons. For use over this level, the rate is $9.13 per thousand gallons.
This means that water used inside the house — the presumed basis of AWC — has a low price in both winter and other seasons. But water used much above that value is more expensive. This is probably water used for swimming pools, irrigation of lawns, and other outside summer uses.
(The water usage is not the only cost that appears on Wichitans’ water bills. There is a minimum monthly charge and a charge for sewer service, and others.)
Back to the Black & Veatch survey. For the 50 cities in the survey, considering only the water portion of bills, the average cost for using 3,750 gallons per month is $19. For using 15,000 gallons, the cost is $65. That’s a ratio of 3.4 to 1.
For Wichita, the survey reported costs of $18 and $36, for a ratio of 2.0 to 1.
These are two important numbers: 3.4 and 2.0. They mean that while Wichita water becomes marginally more expensive as more is used, the slope is not nearly as steep as the average. It means that households that use low amounts of water pay about average rates, but those using a lot of water pay rates much less than average.
Does this mean that if Wichita is serious about conservation of water, that it could ramp up summer water rates more in like with other cities? It looks that way.
And would this provide the revenue the city says it needs to develop a new water supply?
To pay for a new water supply, Wichita gives voters two choices and portrays one as exceptionally bad and unwise. This either-or fallacy created by the city is a form of campaigning for the sales tax in disguise.
In November Wichita voters will decide whether to create a sales tax of one cent per dollar. The largest intended purpose of the funds is to create a new water supply.
Set aside for a moment the question whether Wichita needs a new water source. Set aside the question of whether ASR is the best way to provide a new water source. What’s left is how to pay for it.
To pay for a new water source, the city gives us two choices: Either (a) raise funds through the sales tax, or (b) borrow funds that Wichitans will pay back on their water bills, along with a pile of interest.
As you can see in the nearby chart prepared by the city, the costs are either $250 million (sales tax) or $471 million (borrow and pay interest). The preference of the city is evident: sales tax. The “Yes Wichita ” group agrees.
Here’s what is happening. City hall gives us two choices. It’s either (a) do what we want (sales tax), or (b) we’ll do something that’s really bad (borrow and pay interest). Wichitans shouldn’t settle for this array of choices.
Are there other alternatives for raising $250 million for a new water source (assuming it is actually needed)? Of course there are. The best way would be to raise water bills by $250 million over five years. In this way, water users pay for the new water supply, and we avoid the long-term debt that city council members and “Yes Wichita” seem determined to avoid.
Water bills would have to rise by quite a bit in order to raise $50 million per year. But it’s important to have water users pay for water. The benefit of having water users pay for a new water source is that water users will become acutely aware of the costs of a new water supply. That awareness is difficult to achieve. Many citizens are surprised to learn that the city has spent $247 million over the past decade on a water project, the ASR program. Almost all of that was paid for with long-term debt, the same debt that the city now says is bad.
As Wichita voters consider promises of transparency and reporting regarding job creation, the city fails to make even the most basic information available.
In November, Wichita voters will consider whether to authorize a sales tax of one cent per dollar. Part of that would be used for economic development with the aid of creating jobs. The city promises a transparency in decision making and reporting of results regarding this jobs fund.
Material produced by the city on July 22 contains: “Decisions about who receives funding, the number of jobs, and the impact on community would be made in public meetings and tracked through a website. Reports would be made on a regular basis to elected officials.”
On its website, the “Yes Wichita” group promises that “Results will be measured and reported publicly.” Also, “Decisions and results are made in public meetings and transparent with website tracking results, investments and return on investment to community.”
In other words, sales tax boosters are promoting transparency and presentation of results.
The thing is, the city and its affiliated groups could be doing this right now if they wanted to. They could have been doing it for many years, if they had wanted to.
A specific example
Premier Processing is a company located in Wichita that received forgivable loans from both Wichita and Sedgwick County five years ago. The loans included clawback provisions calling for repayment of the loans if jobs targets were not met.
Unfortunately, the job targets were not met. Premier has repaid the loans to both governments. (I’ve requested further details from the city, such as whether the company paid the interest that the contract specified in case of default.)
Are you aware of this news? It’s not likely that you are aware, as neither Sedgwick County or the city made this information public. But this is the type of information the city and “Yes Wichita” promise will be available in the future.
It’s true that the city doesn’t have a fancy website on which to report these results. But that isn’t needed right now. If the city is truly interested in reporting results to citizens, it could have written a simple press release. Two or three sentences is all that’s needed. The city could have dictated these sentences to a newspaper or television reporter. This is not difficult. It would cost next to nothing.
But the city didn’t do that. Instead, someone tipped me, and I asked. If not for that, we would not know. This is the culture at Wichita city hall.
While “Yes Wichita” campaigns for higher sales taxes, it operates from a building that received a special exemption from paying sales tax.
Many Wichitans remember the building at the northwest corner of First and Market Streets as the Kansas Gas and Electric Building. Today, under new ownership, it’s being converted to luxury apartments under the name “The Lux.”
The new owners of The Lux felt that they shouldn’t have to pay sales tax on things they purchase (like construction materials) while renovating the building. So they approached the city. On October 2, 2012 the city granted their request and initiated the process whereby The Lux will avoid paying sales taxes.
Fast forward two years. Now there’s a proposal to add one cent per dollar to the sales tax in Wichita. A group named “Yes Wichita” formed to promote the higher sales tax.
When “Yes Wichita” — a group that campaigns for you to pay higher sales taxes on nearly everything from baby formula to automobiles — needed campaign headquarters, do you know where it decided to locate?
That’s right. In The Lux, a building that does not have to pay sales tax on materials used in its conversion to luxury apartments.
The second question the survey asked was “In general, do you agree? Or disagree? With the idea of local governments using taxpayer money to provide subsidies to certain businesses for economic development?” Following are the results for everyone, and then divided by political party and political ideology.
Overall, 55 percent disagreed with using taxpayer money to provide subsidies to certain businesses for economic development. 34 percent agreed.
The results are fairly consistent across political party and ideology, although Republicans are somewhat more likely to agree with using taxpayer funds for economic development incentives, as are those who self-identify as political moderates.
The Wichita City Council will consider a proposal from a consultant to “facilitate a community conversation for the creation of a new economic development diversification plan for the greater Wichita region.” Haven’t we been down this road before?
This week the Wichita City Council will consider funding “the formulation of a new economic development strategy.” Here’s a summary provided by the city:
Wichita State University approached STARNet about developing a proposal to assist WSU, the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce and the community with the formulation of a new economic development strategy. Over a period of almost ten months STARNet will manage a four phase process that will lead to an integrated economic development strategy that will prioritize how and where to deploy resources. The process will include a comprehensive review of the region’s assets and issues, development of a common vision, identification of priorties [sic] and egagement [sic] of stakeholders committed to strategy implementation.
It sounds from this as though the city has not been engaging in economic development and strategizing. This reminds me of the $658 million in tax abatements Boeing received over several decades. Wasn’t that economic development? The answer from pro-sales tax forces was no, that wasn’t paid in cash. Also, even though Boeing has left Wichita, the facilities still generate $6 million in property taxes. So, it really worked after all, they say.
Here’s something else from the proposal summary: “Project Objective: Support formulation of a Wichita Economic Development Strategy that integrates existing initiatives (e.g. GWEDC and WSU); is supported by the majority of regional stakeholders and can be used to guide policy discussions for use of new City/County revenues for job formation.” (emphasis added)
I thought we already had a plan for the sales tax revenue, according to the city and the “Yes Wichita” group. Now we are told we need to start an expensive and lengthy planning process?
What about the cost and funding? “The total estimated cost of the project is $234,929. Funding partners include WSU, Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce, Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition, Wichita Downtown Development Corporation, the City of Wichita and Sedgwick County. The City of Wichita is being asked to contribute an amount not to exceed $42,986. The funding partners will have an agreement with WSU who, in turn, will hold the contract with STARNet.”
Here is the first thing that will be done, according to the proposal: “Secure Co-chairs to Lead Initiative: This regional initiative begins with the designation of at least two or more high level, objective, economic leaders agreeing to co–chair the on–going initiative. The co-chairs are often effective when chosen from an existing regional development group.”
This is written as through Wichita has been doing nothing in this regard. I wonder what the leaders of the Wichita Metro Chamber Leadership Council thinks of this? Here’s what the Chamber says about this council:
The Leadership Council is a think tank comprised of 100 top business, non-profit and public-sector CEO’s for the purpose of discussing and pursuing resolutions of major issues or projects to make the Wichita area competitive for job creation, talent attraction, capital investment and therefore long-term economic prosperity. Created by the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce, the Council is co-chaired by Charlie Chandler (Intrust Bank Chairman and CEO) and Jeff Turner (retired CEO of Spirit AeroSystems). The Council was formed in 2012 and held its first meeting in September of the same year.
So we’ve had two prominent Wichita business leaders shepherding an initiative for two years. Is this effort now discarded?
Here’s something to watch for. Proposals like this contain buzzwords — something new and exciting, something that leaders can use to show they’re on the cutting edge. So note this language in the proposal:
Moreover, economies don’t stop at municipal or county boundaries; they go where their residents drive to work—the “comutershed”. (Misused punctuation in the original.)
I wonder when city leaders start using this neologism — comutershed — if they will correct the spelling of one of its base words.
Wichita city leaders and the “Vote Yes” group say it’s better to pay for a new water source with sales tax rather than debt. This aversion to debt seems to be a recent concern of the city, considering the chart below.
Updated figures for Kansas school spending are now available from the Kansas State Department of Education.
In actual dollars, state aid rose from $3,198,060,481 for the school year ending in 2013 to $3,267,998,852 for the current year. Total spending rose from $5,852,470,791 to $5,975,517,681 for the same years. Enrollment rose by 3,192 full-time equivalent students.
On a per-student basis, state aid rose from $6,984 to $7,088, and total spending rose from $12,781 to $12,960.
Nearby charts show the trends in Kansas school spending after adjusting for inflation using the consumer price index. For the past several years, spending per pupil (adjusted for inflation) is largely flat. (Click charts for larger versions.)
Of interest is the role of base state aid per pupil. This is the starting point for the Kansas school finance formula. As can be seen in the chart, this value has declined over the years, after adjusting for inflation.
The school finance formula contains many adjustments and weightings that are applied to determine total state funding. As can be seen in the same chart, this value has been on a rising trajectory over the past two decades (adjusted for inflation), although its rise has not been steady.
As we can also see, nearly two decades ago base state aid was nearly the same value as total state aid. But over the years total state aid has risen faster than base state aid has fallen. For the school year just ended, total state aid per pupil was 1.85 times base state aid per pupil.
As part of the campaign for a proposed Wichita sales tax, the city says that debt is bad. But actions the city has taken have caused debt levels to rise, and projections are for further increases.
According to the most recent edition of Wichita’s Performance Measure Report, the city’s debt levels are projected to rise, based on three measures.
One measure, named “Outstanding Net General Obligation Debt as a Percentage of Assessed Value,” is projected to rise. From 2007 through 2011, the average value for this measure was 1.50 percent. Since then its actual value has risen, and the city projects it to continue to rise, reaching 3.59 percent in 2015 and then 3.44 percent in 2016. (Click charts for larger versions.)
Describing this measure, the city document explains “The level of outstanding debt as a percentage of assessed valuation is based on currently anticipated debt needs of the 2011-2020 Adopted Capital Improvement Program. The percentage is expected to increase as additional debt financing projects are implemented.” (emphasis added)
In “Factors impacting outcomes,” the city explains “Slow assessed valuation growth coupled with increasing debt will lead to an increase in this measure.” (emphasis added)
Another measure is “Outstanding Gross General Obligation Debt per Capita.” From 2007 to 2009 the average value was $1,216. It has risen since then, although not steadily. The value is projected to peak at $1,626 in 2015 and then fall to $1,610 in 2016.
City documents explain: “Slow population growth coupled with increasing debt lead to an increase in this measure.” (emphasis added)
Another measure is “Outstanding General Obligation Debt Service as a Percentage of Debt Service Fund Taxes Levied.” This measure is projected to rise to over twice its recent low value of 30 percent in 2009 to 64 percent in 2015 and 2016.
The performance report describes this measure as “… outstanding General Obligation debt divided by taxes levied by the Debt Service Fund.” Its importance is this, says the city: “This is a measure of flexibility; if the percentage is lower, there are more future opportunities to initiate projects paid for with bonds.”
The document also explains: “In the past, the City of Wichita’s borrowing needs have been lower because more projects were paid for with cash, rather than bonds.” Additionally, “Anticipated debt issuances will increase, based on programmed CIP improvements.”
Boosters of the proposed Wichita sales tax promise transparency. But Wichita has not delivered on that in the past, and still rebuffs the public’s right to know.
When a city council member apologizes to bureaucrats because they have to defend why their agencies won’t disclose how taxpayer money is spent, we have a problem. When the mayor and most other council members agree, the problem is compounded. Carl Brewer won’t be mayor past April, but the city council member that apologized to bureaucrats — Pete Meitzner (district 2, east Wichita) — may continue serving in city government beyond next year’s elections. Wichita City Manager Robert Layton will likely continue serving for the foreseeable future.
Wichita City Council Member Pete Meitzner does not support the public’s right to know how taxpayer funds are spent.
Why is this important? Supporters of the proposed Wichita sales tax promise transparency in operations and spending, especially regarding the jobs fund. But requests for spending records by the city’s quasi-governmental agencies are routinely rebuffed. Simple requests for contracts without outside entities are rejected. The city supports this refusal to comply with the Kansas Open Records Act.
Here are some things voters may want to consider as they evaluate promises of future transparency and accountability:
The city council seems pleased with city manager Robert Layton. He has not advocated for citizens’ right to know how taxpayer money is spent despite being presented with compelling reasons why the city should act to increase transparency.
The Kansas Open Records Act does not prohibit the city and these agencies from releasing spending records. The city and agencies have made this decision, and have spent taxpayer resources fighting against the release of spending records.
If the city and its quasi-governmental agencies are serious about accountability and transparency, they could release the requested records today.
The city is unable to provide spending records in computer-readable form except for images. This data is not readily usable.
One of the co-chairs of the “Yes Wichita” group, Harvey Sorensen, has been a vigorous defender of government’s ability to spend taxpayer funds in secret, telling the city council that advocates for transparency simply want to embarrass the city, and there is no public purpose for their requests.
Given this background, on what basis do we believe that the city and its agencies will change their attitude towards citizens’ right to know how taxpayer funds are spent?
If the city wants to convince citizens that it has changed its attitude towards government transparency and citizens’ right to know how tax money is spent, it could positively respond to the records requests made by myself and Kansas Policy Institute.
Following, from December 2012, an illustration of the city’s attitude towards citizens’ right to know.
Wichita, again, fails at open government
The Wichita City Council, when presented with an opportunity to increase the ability of citizens to observe the workings of the government they pay for, decided against the cause of open government, preferring to keep the spending of taxpayer money a secret.
In the past I’ve argued that Go Wichita is a public agency as defined in the Kansas Open Records Act. But the city disagreed. And astonishingly, the Sedgwick County District Attorney agrees with the city’s interpretation of the law.
So I asked that we put aside the law for now, and instead talk about good public policy. Let’s recognize that even if the law does not require Go Wichita, WDDC, and GWEDC to disclose records, the law does not prohibit them from fulfilling records requests.
Once we understand this, we’re left with these questions:
Why does Go Wichita, an agency funded almost totally by tax revenue, want to keep secret how it spends that money, over $2 million per year?
Why is this city council satisfied with this lack of disclosure of how taxpayer funds are spent?
For that matter, why isn’t Wichita’s check register online?
It would be a simple matter for the council to declare that the city and its taxpayer-funded partner agencies believe in open government. All the city has to have is the will to do this. It takes nothing more.
Only Wichita City Council Member Michael O’Donnell (district 4, south and southwest Wichita) gets it, and yesterday was his last meeting as a member of the council. No other council members would speak up in favor of citizens’ right to open government.
But it’s much worse than a simple failure to recognize the importance of open government. Now we have additional confirmation of what we already suspected: Many members of the Wichita City Council are openly hostile towards citizens’ right to know.
He added that this is a matter for the Attorney General and the District Attorney, and that not being a lawyer, she shouldn’t be expected to understand these issues. He repeated the pawn theme, saying “Unfortunately there are occasions where some people want to use great people like yourself and [Wichita Downtown Development Corporation President] Jeff Fluhr as pawns in a very tumultuous environment. Please don’t be deterred by that.”
Mayor Brewer added “I would have to say Pete pretty much said it all.”
We’ve learned that city council members rely on — as Randy Brown told the council last year — facile legal reasoning to avoid oversight: “It may not be the obligation of the City of Wichita to enforce the Kansas Open Records Act legally, but certainly morally you guys have that obligation. To keep something cloudy when it should be transparent I think is foolishness on the part of any public body, and a slap in the face of the citizens of Kansas. By every definition that we’ve discovered, organizations such as Go Wichita are subject to the Kansas Open Records Act.”
But by framing open government as a legal issue — one that only lawyers can understand and decide — Wichita city government attempts to avoid criticism for their attitude towards citizens.
It’s especially absurd for this reason: Even if we accept the city’s legal position that the city and its quasi-governmental taxpayer-funded are not required to fulfill records request, there’s nothing preventing from doing that — if they wanted to.
In some ways, I understand the mayor, council members, and bureaucrats. Who wants to operate under increased oversight?
What I don’t understand is the Wichita news media’s lack of interest in this matter. Representatives of all major outlets were present at the meeting.
I also don’t understand what Council Member Lavonta Williams (district 1, northeast Wichita) suggested I do: “schmooze” with staff before asking for records. (That’s not my word, but a characterization of Williams’ suggestion made by another observer.)
I and others who have made records requests of these quasi-governmental taxpayer-funded organizations have alleged no wrongdoing by them. But at some point, citizens will be justified in wondering whether there is something that needs to be kept secret.
The actions of this city have been noticed by the Kansas Legislature. The city’s refusal to ask its tax-funded partners to recognize they are public agencies as defined in the Kansas Open Records Act is the impetus for corrective legislation that may be considered this year.
Don’t let this new law be known as the “Wichita law.” Let’s not make Wichita an example for government secrecy over citizens’ right to know.
Unfortunately, that bad example has already been set, led by the city’s mayor and city council.
The first question the survey asked was “In the past few years, have Wichita city officials used taxpayer money efficiently? Or inefficiently?” Following are the results for everyone, and then divided by political party and political ideology.
Overall, 58 percent believe city spending was inefficient, compared to 28 percent believing spending was efficient.
The results are surprisingly consistent. An exception is that political independents strongly believed that city spending was inefficient. Those identifying as liberal were more likely to say that city spending was inefficient.
The City of Wichita says it doesn’t have enough revenue for things like street maintenance and transit, but continues to borrow for spending on new projects.
The City of Wichita is asking voters to approve a sales tax of one cent per dollar. Part will be used to bolster areas of spending where the city admits not spending enough: Street maintenance and transit. (These shortfalls are based on the city’s goals.)
The city says it does not have enough revenue to pay for these items. But voters need to know that the city continues to spend on new things. In fact, it borrows quite a bit to finance new things.
As an example, last month the city issued $368 million in bonded debt. Part — about half — was to refinance short-term bonds. The other half was new debt.
Here’s something listed as what the city paid for with part of the bond proceeds: “Douglas and Hillside Redevelopment, $3,685,000.00.” The new intersection is nice, although the previous version wasn’t bad.
To relate this to the proposed sales tax Of the funds the sales tax is projected to raise over five years, $27.8 million is allocated for street maintenance and repairs. That’s $5.6 million per year to be spent in addition to what the city has already planned to spend.
So to reconstruct just one intersection, the city spent two-thirds of the dedicated portion of the sales tax for streets.
Here’s what voters need to keep in mind. The city claims it doesn’t have enough revenue to pay for the upkeep of streets — the streets that taxpayers have already paid for. But the city borrows money for new projects like this and many others. Then, the city tells us it doesn’t have enough money to maintain what we already have, and voters need to pass a sales tax.
By the way, how do you feel about the progress of the WaterWalk development in downtown? There’s not much going on there. Here’s how much the city borrowed to spend on that project, according to the bond documents: “WaterWalk – Eastbank Development, $7,145,000.00″
From Kansas Policy Institute, the third and final free conference examining issues related to the proposed one cent per dollar Wichita sales tax. Voters will decide on this in November.
Moving Wichitans in the Future: Paving and Transit Via Sales Tax?
A free event on Thursday October 23, 2014 from 7:30 am to 11:00 am
A review of the paving and transit portions of the proposed 1% sales tax in the City of Wichita.
Full Agenda and Speaker Line-Up
8:00 a.m. — Summary of Urban Transportation: Wendell Cox, author and international transportation consultant
9:00 a.m. — Details of Wichita Plan: Alan King, director of Wichita Public Works, and Steve Spade, director of Wichita Transit
10:00 a.m. — Reform Ideas From Around The Country: Len Gilroy, Director of Government Reform at the Reason Foundation
KPI is not taking a position on the larger sales proposal or its component pieces. KPI is hosting these events featuring multiple expert opinions on the underlying policy pieces in an effort to present Wichitans with a variety of views. A July event covered the water proposal and the “jobs fund” was reviewed in September.
The event will be held at the WSU MetroPlex, Room 185
5015 E. 29th Street North
In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Andrew Bernstein is a proponent of Ayn Rand’s Objectivism, an author, and a professor of philosophy. We talk about capitalism and other subjects. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 62, broadcast October 12, 2014.
There are solutions to the Wichita water shortage (to the extent it exists) that originate outside city hall. Dr. Art Hall of KU explains in this excerpt from WichitaLiberty.TV. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Originally broadcast September 28, 2014. For more on this topic see:
Goossen claims we made an $802 million math error and tries to fool unsuspecting readers by saying we didn’t account for all of what is purported to be a $1.3 billion shortfall. We didn’t account for it because there is no $1.3 billion shortfall!
As we explained in How Budget Deficits are Fabricated in Kansas, Kansas Legislative Research Department (KLRD) counts budget changes multiple times in arriving at what they call a $1.3 billion shortfall. Once money is cut from the base budget … it’s gone. It doesn’t have to be cut again every year into the future.
According to KLRD, the spending adjustments needed to maintain a zero ending balance total $482.3 million over five years.
In order to get to $1.3 billion, one must count the FY 2016 change FOUR times … the FY 2017 change is counted THREE times … the FY 2018 change is counted TWICE … and only the FY 2019 change is counted once.
Goossen also mischaracterizes several proposed uses of excess cash reserves as “cuts” to transportation and education. As clearly explained in our Budget Plan, we are proposing that a KDOT surplus of $150 million be returned to the General Fund and that sales tax transfers to KDOT be reduced so that future surpluses are not created. We suggest that school districts and universities be required to use a portion of excess cash reserves, allowing education funding to reduced one time while excess funds are spent down.
He also falsely claims we are recommending a $100 million cut to the Kansas Bioscience Authority, when our plan merely suggests funding KBA at the same amount it received in 2014. The budget savings comes about by removing a statutory set-aside of $25 million per year that isn’t planned to be spent.
These are just some of the outlandish claims made by Goossen, which probably explains why he ignores invitations to have a civil public discussion of the facts. He has nothing to gain and everything to lose.
Our budget plan shows multiple options to balance the budget without service reductions or tax increases…healthy ending balances…increased funding for education and Medicaid…and record-setting spending overall. But media won’t even look at the plan and others are spreading false claims about it.
Kansans are being inundated with the false choice of tax increases or service reductions … all for political gain.
Kansas law requires publication of certain notices in newspapers, but cities like Wichita could also make them available in other ways that are easier to use.
Do you read the legal publications in your local newspaper? Often they are lengthy. Many pertain to just one person or company. All are supplied using ink expressed as fine print on the chemically processed flesh of dead trees.
But some legal publications are important and of interest to the general public.
Kansas law requires that many legal notices must be printed on a newspaper. That law needs to be changed. As you might imagine, newspapers resist this reform, as it might mean a loss of revenue for them. (That’s right. Newspapers don’t print these notices as a public service.)
Although the law requires publishing notices in a newspaper, it doesn’t prohibit publishing them in electronic form. If governmental agencies would make their legal publications available in ways other than the newspaper, citizens would be better served.
This would be easy to do. It would be quite inexpensive. The material is already in electronic form. The notices would become searchable through Google and other methods. Government transparency would increase. Interested parties could capture and store notices this material for their own use. Once people get used to this method of publication, it will make it easier to get state law changed.
So why doesn’t the City of Wichita (and Sedgwick County and the District Court) post their legal notices on their websites?
Kansas school fund balances declined this year, but fund balances are still large.
As Kansas voters consider school funding, as the Kansas Supreme Court considers ordering more school spending, and as school spending boosters insisting that school spending has been slashed, an inconvenient fact remains constant: Kansas schools don’t spend all the money they’ve been given. Fund balances have been growing until leveling off and dipping slightly this year.
I’ve gathered data about unspent Kansas school funds and presented it as an interactive visualization. You may explore the data yourself by using the visualization. Click here to open the visualization in a new window. Data is from Kansas State Department of Education. Visualization created using Tableau Public.
“Yes Wichita” is a group that wants you to vote “Yes” on the proposed Wichita sales tax. But this group will not answer questions. Instead they delete the inconvenient questions.
I’ve asked the “Yes Wichita” group several questions about the proposed one cent per dollar Wichita sales tax. They’re reasonable questions that many Wichita voters might like answered. But instead of answering the questions, “Yes Wichita” has deleted them from its Facebook page. Upon my inquiry as to why, there has been no answer.
I realize these questions are inconvenient for the “Yes Wichita” group, and for the City of Wichita too. So I understand why these people did not answer my questions. Wichita voters may want to consider this indifferent attitude as they make their decision on this issue. Voter might also consider that there are questions the sales tax supporters don’t want asked, much less answered.
Here are questions that I’ve asked that were never answered, and finally deleted. Perhaps you might want to submit them to “Yes Wichita” to see if you can get answers.
October 7, 6:07am
I have a question. The city’s documents regarding the sales tax state: “The State of Kansas estimates that 13% of sales taxes paid in the Wichita area are paid by non-residents based on a report at www.ksrevenue.org/pullfactor.html. This means that the City would collect an estimated $51.7 million in sales taxes (of the total $397.6 million)from non-residents.”
But at the “Yes Wichita” website, there is a different claim: “If we fund a new water source through a sales tax instead of water bills or property taxes, visitors and tourists will pay the sales tax, reducing the burden of this cost to Wichitans by about one-third.”
So which is it? 13 percent, or 33.3 percent? Why does “Yes Wichita” use a figure 2.5 times the city’s?
October 3, 7:48pm
I have a question regarding the proposed sales tax. Earlier this year the steering committee for the Wichita/Sedgwick County Community Investments Plan delivered a report to the Wichita City Council. The report says the city is delinquent in maintaining infrastructure. The report said the “cost to bring existing deficient infrastructure up to standards” is an additional $45 to $55 million per year. Does the proposed sales tax do anything to address this maintenance gap other than the portion earmarked for street repairs? Do you think the city will be asking for additional tax revenue to address the maintenance shortfall? If not, what is the city’s plan for catching up on infrastructure maintenance?
October 2, 8:53pm
I have a question. Can anyone tell me what the cost of the sales tax for an average family might be?
September 22, 9:48pm
I have a question. Jon Rolph disputed Jennifer Baysinger’s figures on the cost of the proposed sales tax for Wichita households. Is he or “Yes Wichita” willing to provide any figures or calculations as to what the cost might be, and the basis for Rolph’s disagreement?
Testimony of John Todd to the Wichita City Council, October 7, 2014.
I want to complement the Union Station LLC group for tackling an important redevelopment project in downtown Wichita.
I am troubled however, by the developer’s request for $17.3 million in Tax Increment Finance (TIF) funding for his project because it diverts increases in future property tax revenues away from the public treasury and back to the developer for 20 years. Under current taxing levies this means that roughly one-third or $5 million plus of future Union Station property tax revenues would be diverted from the City of Wichita needed for public safety items like police and fire protection, and the building of public infrastructure. Plus, roughly one-third or $5 million plus would be diverted from the Sedgwick County treasury needed to provide for our Court System, the maintenance of property ownership records, the Sheriff’s office and detention center. The last one-third or $5 million plus would be diverted from Wichita Public Schools needed for the education of our children.
The diversion of future property tax revenues away from local governmental treasuries should concern every taxpaying citizen when one considers the many needs for these funds. On the city level, $5 million over 20 years could go a long way towards funding needed street maintenance and repairs, or providing the revenue needed for a viable public bus system, and finding a long-term solution to our cities’ future water needs. Sedgwick County could use $5 million to re-open the Judge Riddel Boys Ranch that helps turn boy’s lives around and makes our community a safer place to live and play by reducing recidivism and crime. And, just think of how many teachers could be hired with $5 million to prepare our young people for productive lives and jobs.
I am of the opinion that Mr. Gary Oborny has the track record to prove that he is one of the most creative and exceptional real estate developers in the City of Wichita and that he possesses the professional talents needed to make the Union Station project work without TIF public funding.
I believe at some point downtown redevelopment needs to be market driven, stand on its own, and pay taxes into the city treasury like other city development projects do.
Today, you have the opportunity to exercise your leadership skills in achieving this transformation. I urge you to seize it.
Part of the sales pitch for the proposed Wichita sales tax is that part is paid by visitors. But there are big differences in opinion as to how much.
In a “frequently asked questions” document produced by the City of Wichita in September, there is a section titled “How much of the sales tax is paid by visitors to Wichita?” The city’s answer is: “The State of Kansas estimates that 13% of sales taxes paid in the Wichita area are paid by non-residents based on a report at www.ksrevenue.org/pullfactor.html. This means that the City would collect an estimated $51.7 million in sales taxes (of the total $397.6 million) from non-residents.”
But at the “Yes Wichita” website, there is a different claim: “If we fund a new water source through a sales tax instead of water bills or property taxes, visitors and tourists will pay the sales tax, reducing the burden of this cost to Wichitans by about one-third.”
So which is it? 13 percent, or 33.3 percent? Why does “Yes Wichita” use a figure 2.5 times the city’s?
I’ve asked in the past that “Yes Wichita” show its calculations and assumptions. Here’s another opportunity.
Wichita city hall promises policies that are clear, predictable and transparent, except when they’re not.
On July 22, 2104, a presentation to the Wichita City Council sought to assure the council and public that a proposed jobs fund created with money collected by the proposed sales tax would have policies that govern the spending of funds: “GWEDC – Finds businesses to expand, recruit, follows established policies for retention/recruitment.”
But there’s a problem. It’s difficult for governments to establish policies that will satisfy everyone. How do we know today what we’ll need five or ten years down the road? When governments change policies to fit particular circumstances, taxpayers are rightfully concerned that the alterations are to suit the needs of special people — the cronies that feed from the city hall trough of taxpayer money. When you couple in what public choice theory tells us, which is that the cronies who want money from government have a much stronger motive to succeed than the bureaucrats are motivated to protect citizens and taxpayers, we can have trouble.
This has happened before in Wichita. Last year when a project didn’t meet the (supposedly) required benefit-cost ratio, the city simply said that it didn’t apply in that case. See Wichita’s policymaking on display.
Now, Wichita seeks to modify its policies again in response to the wants and desires of one person.
Here’s the background you need to know. When the city passed a downtown development incentives policy in 2011, here’s what the city said was its goal: “The business plan recommends the development of a prudent public investment policy that is clear, predictable and transparent, maximizes public investment and enhances market-driven development.” (emphasis added)
The meeting minutes contained further elucidation: “Scott Kneibel Planning Department stated the purpose of the policy is to put in place something that is clear and predictable in terms of how the public would invest in downtown projects through partnership with the private sector. Stated that sort of statement by this governing body has not been made to date. Stated that is the purpose of this policy so that developers will know what types of investments the City of Wichita is interested in making and how the City of Wichita will make those decisions.” (emphasis added)
But as in the past, we find city proposing the change the standards in the middle of the game. Here’s an excerpt from the agenda packet for Tuesday’s meeting, in which a large incentive package for the redevelopment of Union Station may be considered: “In the opinion of the evaluation team, the established criteria do not adequately address projects such as Union Station where the requested incentives do not involve City debt.”
For this project we see that city policy is being modified on the fly to meet the circumstances of a particular project. This is not necessarily bad. Entrepreneurship demands flexibility. But the city promises policies that are clear, predictable and transparent, and city officials say Wichita has a transparent, open government.
Can you imagine conscientious developers who want to invest in downtown Wichita, but after studying the city’s policies, realize their projects don’t conform to the city’s published standards? How many moved on to other cities, not realizing that our standards can be altered and waived?
As Wichita voters consider the value to give to promises from city hall, they should consider these episodes when the city promises there will be “established policies” for the spending of economic development funds generated by the proposed sales tax.
Documents the Wichita City Council will use to evaluate a development proposal contain material errors. Despite the city being aware of the errors for more than one month, they have not been corrected.
On August 19, 2014 the Wichita City Council considered an agenda item titled “Resolution Considering the Establishment of the Union Station Redevelopment District, Tax Increment Financing.” The purpose of the item was to set October 7, 2014 as the date for the public hearing on the formation of a TIF district. The council passed this resolution.
On August 27 Bob Weeks inquired this of Wichita city officials based on information contained in city documents that were prepared for the August 19 meeting:
“On the Union station TIF proposal, there is mentioned ‘$3,766,156 in monetized historic tax credits.’ Do you know whether these are federal or state tax credits, and the face value of the credits? I presume that ‘monetized’ means the value the developers expect to receive when selling the credits at a discount.”
That same day he received this response from Allen Bell, the city’s Director of Urban Development.
“The Developer has not yet provided the City with details on the tax credits. However, staff analyzed the project to ascertain a ballpark estimate of how much it could generate in both state and federal tax credits and came up with a similar amount. We assume that $3,766,156 is the amount of net proceeds to be injected into the project from the sale of tax credits and that it is discounted from the face value of the credits.”
On follow up, Weeks asked this:
“I was also wondering which incentive program allows for the sales tax exemptions included in the CEDBR analysis.”
The response from Bell was:
“The only incentive program available to Union Station that would provide a sales tax exemption is IRBs. The Developer did not request IRBs or a sales tax exemption. I would guess that CEDBR factored it into the cost-benefit analysis to be extra conservative.”
CEDBR is the Center for Economic Development and Business Research at Wichita State University.
In addition to Bell, other city officials participating in these emails were Van Williams, Public Information Officer; Mark Elder, Development Analyst; and Scott Knebel, Downtown Revitalization Manager.
On October 2, when the city released the agenda packet for the October 7 meeting, the tax credits and sales tax information was not changed.
By the city’s admission, the value of tax credits for this project is a guess, and we don’t know if the project is actually eligible for these tax credits. The sales tax exemption included in the CEDBR is an incentive this project is not eligible for and will not receive. Despite several city officials being aware of these errors, the material the city council will consider on October 7 has not been corrected.
Gary Oborny of Wichita appeared on Fox News in August to explain problems with onerous government regulations. Next week he will ask the Wichita City Council to use laws and regulations to grant him millions of tax dollars. For more, see Union Station TIF provides lessons for Wichita voters.
In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Considering the proposed Wichita sales tax, looking at unmet maintenance needs, claims that we have few economic development incentives, the cost of the sales tax to families, the taxes already going to the transit system, and the bad choice the city gives us for water. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 61, broadcast October 5, 2014.
A proposed downtown Wichita development deserves more scrutiny than it has received, as it provides a window into the city’s economic development practice that voters should peek through as they consider voting for the Wichita sales tax.
Next week a Wichita real estate developer will ask the Wichita City Council to approve a package of incentives for the redevelopment of Union Station in downtown Wichita. The proposal contains many facets that citizens need to understand. Additionally, the city’s handling of this matter is something that voters will want to keep in mind as they make their decision on the proposed Wichita sales tax in November.
Union Station LLC is asking for TIF, or tax increment financing. Most commonly, TIF works like this: A city borrows money (by issuing bonds) and gives the cash to a development. After the project is built and has a higher assessed value, the city uses the increased property tax payments (the “increment” in TIF) from the development to pay off the bonds. This obviously is risky for cities, because if the development doesn’t generate sufficient increment in tax payments to cover the bond payments, the city will have to make up the difference. This has happened in Wichita.
In recent years a new type of TIF has been created by statute, the “pay-as-you-go” TIF. Here, instead of issuing bonds and paying off the bonds with the incremental taxes, the city simply refunds the incremental taxes to the development. City documents describe: “The TIF statute also allows for projects to be financed on a pay-as-you-go basis, to reimburse the developer for eligible costs as TIF funds are received.”
This has less risk for cities, because if the hoped-for incrementally higher property taxes don’t materialize, the development doesn’t receive TIF proceeds. There are no bonds that must be paid. The developer just doesn’t receive what was projected. This is why the city claims that pay-as-you-go TIF has no risk to the city.
(Under pay-as-you-go TIF, since the city is essentially refunding nearly all property tax payments back to the development, we have to wonder why the city requires the taxes be paid at all. Also, there is the charade of spending TIF money only on “eligible” project costs. But the criteria for eligibility is broad, and we can be sure that developers will do all they can to make sure costs are characterized as eligible. But the eligibility criteria allows cities to appear to be fiscally prudent. Cities say they don’t allow TIF proceeds to be spent on just anything, but only on eligible costs.)
Here’s what the agenda packet says about this TIF: “Union Station LLC proposes to combine pay-as-you-go TIF with private financing to finance the proposed redevelopment project. The developer will finance through private sources all costs of the redevelopment project, including TIF-eligible project costs. Pay-as-you-go TIF revenue will be used to reimburse the developer on an annual basis with proof of expenditure of TIF-eligible redevelopment project costs.”
Buried in this paragraph is some financial slight-of-hand. Wichitans need to understand this so that they can be fully informed on this proposed transaction.
The problem lies is the meanings of the terms “to finance” and “to pay for.” Financing is the process of securing money to pay the costs of acquiring something. If financing is in the form of a loan, the economics of the transaction is that the borrower receives cash (assets go up) but also incurs an obligation to pay back the cash (liabilities go up by the same amount).
Then, when the borrower uses this cash to buy something — like a historic train station — one form of asset is exchanged for another. Cash is exchanged for title to the property.
It’s in the future, as the loan is repaid, that needs examination. The goal of real estate development is that the developer creates a project that generates more money coming in than loan payments going out. If this happens, it is a signal that the developer has met customer needs and has used capital in a way that makes everyone better off.
But there’s a confounding factor involved in the “pay for” part of the transaction that the city council will consider next week. The burden of some of the loan repayments will be born by the taxpayer. We don’t know for sure, but undoubtedly Union Station LLC will borrow money to make the project work. Proceeds from the TIF will be used to make at least some of the loan payments.
This is where the slight-of-hand comes in. The city says “The developer will finance through private sources …” That much is true. The city is not loaning any money. But some of the money used to pay back the private loans will come from TIF proceeds. So it is property tax payments being re-routed back to the developer that actually pays for part of the development: “Pay-as-you-go TIF revenue will be used to reimburse the developer on an annual basis …”
This is the heart of the transaction. It’s what citizens need to understand. Instead of Union Station LLC’s property taxes being used to pay the cost of government, nearly all of these taxes will pay off the owner’s loans.
The purchase of the property
Here’s what city documents state regarding the purchase of the property: “The $6,226,156 in equity is proposed to be in the form of $1,500,000 from the purchase of the property that will be contributed as collateral, $3,766,156 in monetized historic tax credits, and $960,000 in cash.”
It’s the “purchase of the property” that needs scrutiny. More from the city documents: “The developer would be compensated for the fair market value of the land where public access improvements would be located, not to exceed the $1,500,000 actual site acquisition cost. The Public Access Easement attachment illustrates that the portions of the site where a public access easement would be acquired is 274,059 square feet and that the average land acquisition cost of 10 comparable downtown properties is $6.71 per square foot, placing the fair market value of the land where the public access improvements would be located at $1,839,147.”
What’s happening is that part of the land area of the project is being called “public access improvements.” These are things like, according to city documents, “parking structure, pedestrian boardwalk, paving, utilities, and landscaping.” The city is proposing to pay the developer $1,500,000 for these areas.
If the council agrees to this, new avenues will have been opened for spending taxpayer funds. It places other commercial developers and landlords at a disadvantage. Consider, say, the recent Whole Foods Market that opened in Wichita. What Union Station LLC wants is like that developer asking to be reimbursed for the shrubs and grass that was planted, or the parking spaces that are provided. The public will, after all, view the sunlight reflected from the grass and breathe the oxygen generated by the shrubs. And, the public will park in the spaces. These “public access improvements” are part of what is necessary to provide an attractive and desirable development. It’s part of what businesses do to attract customers and earn profits. But the Union Station developer is asking that the city pay him for providing these things. If the council agrees to this, we can expect to see this template applied repeatedly in the future.
The missing tax credits
City documents state this regarding the sources of funds for the project: “Private to Public Investment Ratio — The proposed private capital investment is $36,578,000, and the proposed public capital investment is $17,321,000, resulting in a private to public capital investment ratio of 2.1 to 1.” But missing from this calculation is the contribution of taxpayers in the form of historic preservation tax credits. As reported above, the city reports the project will receive $3,766,156 in monetized historic tax credits.
(Tax credits are economically equivalent to a grant of cash from government. Commonly their value is used to boost the “private” equity contribution to the project. But since the tax credits come from government, we ought to call it the “peoples’ equity.”)
I inquired of city officials whether the historic preservation tax credits are federal, state, or both. The answer I received: “The Developer has not yet provided the City with details on the tax credits. However, staff analyzed the project to ascertain a ballpark estimate of how much it could generate in both state and federal tax credits and came up with a similar amount. We assume that $3,766,156 is the amount of net proceeds to be injected into the project from the sale of tax credits and that it is discounted from the face value of the credits.”
So it seems like the city is surmising things that may or may not be part of the developer’s plan.
False sales tax exemption applied
There’s another level of uncertainty in the city documents. In the analysis performed by Center for Economic Development and Business Research at Wichita State University, about $1.8 million in sales tax exemptions are included in the analysis. In my reading of the project documents, I didn’t see the project qualifying for sales tax exemptions. Upon inquiry to the city, I received this response: “The only incentive program available to Union Station that would provide a sales tax exemption is IRBs. The Developer did not request IRBs or a sales tax exemption. I would guess that CEDBR factored it into the cost-benefit analysis to be extra conservative.”
It appears there is a lack of communication between the city and CEDBR. More surmising. Exactly which incentives are available to be tapped by this project, and in what amount? Can we trust the analysis from CEDBR if it includes incentives that the project has not requested and is not eligible to receive?
The city has a policy that economic development projects should have a benefit-cost ratio of 1.3 to 1 or greater. For this project, CEDBR reports these ratios:
City General Fund, 1.04
City Debt Service Fund, 1.15
Total City, 1.08
Sedgwick County, 1.06
State of Kansas, 1.66
School district, 7.19
For the city and county, the ratios are far below 1.3 to 1. There are many exceptions and loopholes in the incentive policy that allows the city to participate in projects with less than the 1.3 ratio.
The (un)certainty of city policies
For this project we see that city policy is being modified on the fly to meet the circumstances of a particular project. This is not necessarily bad. Entrepreneurship demands flexibility. But the city promises certainty in its standards, and city officials say Wichita has a transparent, open government. The Public-Private Partnership Evaluation Criteria for the redevelopment of downtown Wichita states “The business plan recommends public-private partnership criteria that are clear, predictable, and transparent.”
But as in the past, we find the city’s policies are anything but predictable and transparent. City documents state: “In the opinion of the evaluation team, the established criteria do not adequately address projects such as Union Station where the requested incentives do not involve City debt.” So we see the “clear, predictable, and transparent” policies discarded and reformulated. How are future developers supposed to know which policies can be waived or rewritten? How are citizens supposed to trust that city hall is looking out for their interests when policies are so fluid?
A recent spurt of growth of personal income in Kansas is welcome, considering the history of Kansas in this regard.
Kansas personal income grew in the quarter ending in June, with the Wichita Business Journal reporting “Kansas ranked 14th among states for second-quarter personal income growth.” The article also noted “According to data released Tuesday by the Bureau of Economic Analysis, personal income grew by 1.7 percent in the second quarter of 2014, faster than the national growth rate of 1.5 percent.”
Strong growth in personal income is good. But strong growth is not the norm for Kansas. The nearby chart shows cumulative growth of personal income in the states since 1990, with Kansas highlighted. Total growth for Kansas is 190 percent. For the entire county, it is 198 percent. For Plains states, 196 percent.
This is relevant to the decision Kansans will make in November when deciding their vote for governor. Progressive voices urge a return to the policies of Kathleen Sebelius and her successor (2003-2011), and Bill Graves (1995-2003). Sebelius, a Democrat, and Graves, a Republican, are seen by Progressives as paragons of “moderate,” “common-sense” leadership that is now — they say — missing.
An interactive visualization of personal income data is available for use here. You may select different time periods and any grouping of states. One of more states may be highlighted. There are similar charts in the visualization that show change in personal income year-over-year, and change from previous quarter.
Those who call for a return to the economic policies of past Kansas gubernatorial administrations may not be aware of the performance of the Kansas economy during those times.
There are a variety of ways to measure the economic performance of states and countries. Job growth is one. Output, or gross domestic product, is another.
The nearby chart contains two views of GDP for Kansas and nearby states. Kansas is the dark line. The charts shows GDP for private industries only. (By using the interactive visualization, you can show other industries, time periods, and states.)
The top chart shows the percentage change in GDP from the previous year. The bottom chart shows the cumulative growth in GDP since 1997. Both charts illustrate that the performance of the Kansas economy is nothing to crow about, and it’s been that way for a long time.
You may use the visualization yourself. Click here to open it in a new window. There are other visualizations of data, including jobs creation by states, available here.
The most important thing Wichita voters need to know that the city is delinquent in maintaining the assets that taxpayers have purchased. The cost to remedy this lack of maintenance is substantial. On an annual basis, Wichita needs to spend $180 million on infrastructure depreciation/replacement costs. Currently the city spends $78 million on this, the presentation indicates.
The “cost to bring existing deficient infrastructure up to standards” is given as an additional $45 to $55 million per year.
How does this relate to the proposed sales tax? Of the funds the sales tax is projected to raise over five years, $27.8 million is allocated for street maintenance and repairs. That’s $5.6 million per year.
Subtract that from what the Community Investments Plan says we need to spend on deficient infrastructure, and we’re left with (roughly) $40 to $50 million per year in additional spending on deficient infrastructure. Remember, that’s on top of ongoing infrastructure depreciation/replacement costs.
Does the proposed sales tax do anything to address those needs? No, it doesn’t.
So what about the deficiency? Is it likely that Wichitans will be asked to provide additional tax revenue to address the city’s deficient infrastructure? So far, city hall hasn’t asked for that, except for recommending that Wichita voters approve $5.6 million per year for streets from a sales tax.
But if we believe the numbers in the Community Investments Plan, we should be prepared for city hall to ask for a lot more tax revenue. That is, if the city is to adequately maintain the things that taxpayers have paid to provide.
It gets even worse.
Earlier this year the city council considered various proposals for spending a new source of tax money. Four survived the discussion and will be the recipient of sales tax funds, if Wichita voters approve. Those needs are a new water supply, jobs and economic development, transit, and street maintenance and repair.
There were proposals that did not make the cut for the proposed sales tax, generally in the category of “quality of life” facilities. These include a new convention center, new performing arts center, new central library, newly renovated Lawrence-Dumont Stadium, renovation of the Dunbar Theater, renovation of O.J. Watson Park, and help for the homeless.
Evidently there are many who are not happy that these proposals will not receive sales tax money. Rumors afloat that groups — including city officials — are plotting for another sales tax increase to fund these items.
People are rightly concerned that even though the proposed Wichita sales tax ordinance specifies an end to the tax in five years, these taxes have a way of continuing. The State of Kansas recently had a temporary sales tax. It went away, but only partly. The Kansas state sales tax rate we pay today is higher than it was before the start of the “temporary” sales tax.
But the people who want to spend your tax dollars on these “quality of life” items aren’t content to wait five years for the proposed sales tax to end. They are plotting to have it start perhaps one year from now.
These are things that Wichita voters need to consider: There is a backlog of maintenance, and there is appetite for more tax revenue for more spending. Even if the sales tax passes, these remain unfulfilled.
Do you get the feeling that Wichita’s promises and projections regarding water are quite, well, fluid?
Six years ago a Wichita city news release stated “Through the ASR project, Wichita will receive the water it needs through the year 2050 …” (“Wichita’s Future Water-Supply Plan Moves Ahead,” July 3, 2008)
But now, Wichitans are told there is a water crises, and the way to solve it is by voting for a sales tax of one cent per dollar. Either that, or the city will meet the crisis by borrowing money and having water users pay an extra $221 million in interest on a $250 million project.
Perhaps the city’s 2008 news release was based on overly-optimistic engineering. Perhaps the claim of being able to meet our water needs through 2050 is based on all four phases of ASR being completed.
Now, the most recent city documents promise much less: “A new water supply is expected to delay the year (with no conservation) in which drought protection for a 1% drought is provided. This date is projected to be 2030.”
Do you get the feeling that the city’s promises and projections regarding water are quite, well, fluid? Do you remember that eleven years ago then-Mayor Bob Knight was told we had sufficient water for the next 50 years?
An adequate water supply is vitally important. But we are not in a crisis. We had plenty of water this year. Cheney Reservoir has been full most of the year, although currently a little less than full as it’s been dry the last month or so.
Wichita’s water crisis — to the extent it exists — does not need to be solved in a rush. The risks of making big-dollar mistakes are too high to hurry.
Speaking of the ASR project: At a time of heightened interest in ASR, the project’s website has been abandoned. Readers will find language like Phase II “will be complete by the end of 2011.” The last newsletter was for December 2011.
The first years of operation of Phase II of ASR have not been a total success. Maybe that’s why there’s been no news.
A City of Wichita outreach system is lightly used, and risks gathering only positive feedback.
Activate Wichita is touted by Wichita city officials as an “online conversation about the future of the Greater Wichita metropolitan area.”
Described on its companion Facebook page as “Activate Wichita is an innovative new way to be heard on the issues your passionate about. Whether your passion is local arts, the environment, or employment creation, you can log on and voice your opinion and local leaders will respond. Together communities come up with solutions and vote on the best course.”
For a system designed to be an interactive conversation, there aren’t many people talking. And maybe I didn’t look diligently enough, but I didn’t see local leaders responding. (Sometimes ideas were marked as “referred to appropriate party.”)
Here’s a real problem: When citizens are asked to rate ideas, to express their approval or — well, that’s the problem. Your choices for voting on an idea are:
I Love It!
I Like It.
That’s it. There’s no voting option for expressing disagreement or disapproval with an idea. “Neutral” is as much dissent as Wichitans are allowed to express in this system.
On this system that city leaders say they rely on for gathering citizen input, there needs to be a voting selection that expresses disagreement or disapproval with an idea. Otherwise when votes are tallied, the worst that any idea can be is “neutral.”
Karma Mason, President of iSi Environmental, presents the Water Task Force Findings from the Wichita Chamber of Commerce during the Wichita Water Conference on July 17, 2014. Kansas Policy Institute organized the conference as an educational and discussion opportunity before citizens vote on a one cent per dollar sales tax increase to fund water infrastructure and other spending by the City of Wichita.
Key advice: “Conservation planning is not the same as drought planning.”
In this excerpt from WichitaLiberty.TV: Now that Uber has started service in Wichita, the city faces a decision. Will Wichita move into the future by embracing Uber, or remain stuck in the past? View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Originally broadcast on September 14, 2014.
Wichitans are threatened with shutdown of the city’s bus system if voters don’t approve a sales tax. We need out-of-the-box thinking here.
In November Wichita voters will decide whether to create a sales tax of one cent per dollar. Part of the funds would be directed to the Wichita transit system.
In another example of “either/or” thinking, members of the Wichita Transit board floated the idea that if the sales tax doesn’t pass, we’ll shut down the entire system. The Wichita Business Journalreported “The rhetoric surrounding the November sales tax referendum heated up on Friday, when reports surfaced that some Wichita Transit advisory board members think the system should be shuttered if the sales tax fails.”
City hall pushed back. The official city position is that without a sales tax, there would be service reductions of 25 percent. But the shutdown threat was made and reported. It will undoubtedly have an effect on some people.
Why does city hall give us such a limited range of choices? Why would members of the Wichita Transit board seed rumors that are so far away from the city’s official position?
Aren’t there other ways to provide transit in Wichita? One new choice in Wichita is the Uber ridesharing service. Its arrival increases transit options in Wichita. Will city hall allow Uber to stay in Wichita?
In some cities so-called “dollar vans” are operated by private industry in competition with city-owned traditional transit. Would Wichita city hall allow such services here?
Both Uber and “dollar vans” are, in my opinion, not compatible with Wichita’s existing laws and regulations. I fully expect the city to crack down on Uber soon. We’re then left with “big empty buses” and traditional taxi service as our transit choices, and perhaps higher taxes too.
Individual liberty, limited government, economic freedom, and free markets in Wichita and Kansas