Remarks to be delivered to the board of USD 259, the Wichita public school district, at tonight’s meeting.
Regarding the Ken Mar Redevelopment District: There is simply no way to look at this TIF district other than as a transfer of $2.5 million from the taxpayers to Reverend Harding’s group. Why? According to material prepared by the City of Wichita, the development was $2.5 million short in its funding. But after the creation of the proposed TIF district, the project is fully funded.
Furthermore, as I explained at an earlier meeting of this board, a TIF district allows developers to pay for things — using their own property taxes — that non-TIF developers must pay for themselves. If this were not so, how does the TIF district benefit the development?
Some say that but for the creation of the TIF district, the project would not happen, and therefore no increased tax revenue would be collected. But as recently reported in the Wichita Eagle, these binary, either/or choices are rarely the actual case. For this development, it has been reported that the development already has $11 million in funding. So it appears that the TIF district is not required for something nice to happen to Ken Mar.
The real problem with this TIF district, however, is the conduct of the applicant, who is a member of this board.
At a meeting of the Wichita City Council, Reverend Harding told the council that he had informed his fellow school board members of what he was doing. But two members of this board have told me personally that he did not do that. So there’s a discrepancy somewhere.
Then, I am Reverend Harding’s constituent. He has not responded to my several email and telephone messages with questions about this project.
In meetings of the Wichita City Council and Sedgwick County Commission, he spoke about himself and what he wants to do for the community. But he hasn’t explained why the taxpayers need to subsidize his project with $2.5 million.
He hasn’t explained why he has voted for property tax increases, but now seeks to avoid paying some of those increased taxes. He hasn’t explained why district residents should vote to increase their property taxes — by way of the proposed school bond issue — but desires to avoid paying some of those taxes himself.
And importantly, in his role as school board member, he hasn’t explained why the school district should forgo tax revenue just so Ken Mar can be redeveloped even grander.
Recently the Sedgwick County Commission took up this matter even though they were not required to, just as this board is not required to. The commission heard testimony from the public. The commissioners spoke, and then they voted. Although the commission did not vote the way I asked, the matter was handled with a reasonable degree of openness and transparency.
This board now faces a test of accountability, openness and transparency, and most importantly, ethics. So I ask that this board consider a resolution vetoing the formation of this TIF district. Those members with a conflict of interest may then recuse themselves, and the remaining board members can vote. This must be done tonight, as any delay means automatic consent to the formation of the TIF district.
If this is not done, the citizens of the Wichita school district will wonder if the fix is in, if a political insider used his position and connections for personal gain. They will be justified in wondering.