Tag Archives: Wichita city council

Wichita’s Faulty Due Diligence

In the Wichita city council meeting on December 2, 2008, council member Jim Skelton questioned Allen Bell, Wichita’s director of urban development, about developers the city is considering working with on a TIF district. Specifically, Skelton asked if there was anything in the backgound of the developers that the council should be concerned about. Bell referred specifically to Grant Gaudreau, naming him as the “principal developer.” He said that the matters in Gaudreau’s past had been “resolved,” and had “no bearing” on this project. Video is available below.

According to Wichita Eagle reporting in the story 35 suits in developer’s past, Gaudreau’s past problems include bankruptcy and lawsuits regarding bounced checks and nonpaid bills. The bankruptcy is not troubling to me, as many entrepreneurs suffer through this as part of their acceptance of risk. Bounced checks at the grocery store and pet clinic, plus a recent auto repossession, are troubling. If someone won’t make good the checks they write at the grocery store, that’s a problem. The city should not partner with such a person.

Further, the Eagle story reports that the developer has an outstanding warrant for unpaid taxes in a neighboring county. That would contradict Mr. Bell’s claim that matters have been resolved.

Here’s the problem I have, and I think many citizens share this concern: Either Allen Bell and city staff didn’t know of all these things in Gaudreau’s past, or they knew about them but didn’t think they were a problem. The first case tells us that Mr. Bell’s office is not doing a thorough job. The second case tells us that Mr. Bell’s judgment does not reflect the concerns of the citizens of Wichita. In either case, there’s a problem at city hall.

Wichita and Sedgwick County Agenda Deadlines Are Too Short

Both the City of Wichita and Sedgwick County have policies that limit citizens’ ability to address these bodies on timely matters. Each body requires, effectively, at least one week notice to appear on the public agenda. That’s the part of the meeting where citizens can speak about any topic, not just those matters that are being considered that day.

Here’s an example of how these restrictive deadlines work against citizens. On December 2, John Todd and I spoke at the Wichita city council meeting, as part of a public hearing. As shown in the posts Wichita TIF Public Hearing Was Bait and Switch and Randy Brown: Reopen Downtown Wichita Arena TIF Public Hearing, the public hearing was defective. Further, there’s a time factor involved, in that the city council set in motion a process that must be resolved within 30 days. With the upcoming holidays, time is tight.

So John called the Wichita city clerk, but we can’t get on the agenda for the next city council meeting. By the time we can get on the agenda, it’s nearly too late for the council to take the action we’d like to ask of them.

A reasonable policy is this: When something happens in a meeting one week, there should be time for citizens to get on the public agenda for the next meeting.

The policy of the Wichita City Council is “Members of the public desiring to present matters to the council on the public agenda must submit a request in writing to the office of the city manager prior to twelve noon on the Tuesday preceding the council meeting.”

For Sedgwick County, I wasn’t able to find a policy on its website, but while watching today’s commission meeting on television, chairman Winters asked the public to contact the county manager’s office “at least a week or ten days before our meeting” if they wanted to address the commission.

Note: when an item is on the agenda, citizens usually get to speak about the item. The public agenda is where citizens can speak about items that may or may not be on the meeting’s agenda.

Letters to Wichita City Council and Sedgwick County Commission Regarding Downtown Wichita TIF District

John Todd has prepared letters that we hope will influence local governments regarding the downtown Wichita TIF district. One, to the Wichita City Council, asks them to conduct a proper public hearing. A second letter to the Sedgwick County Commissioners asks them to not consider passing this TIF district until Wichita conducts a proper public hearing. A third is a letter to the Wichita Eagle explaining citizens’ concerns.

If you’d like to sign these letters, please contact John Todd at [email protected]. Here’s the one to the Wichita City Council:

Mayor Carl Brewer
Wichita City Council Members
Wichita City Hall
Wichita, Kansas

Subject: Citizens request for a new and open City Council public hearing before implementing the Center City South Redevelopment TIF District, commonly known as the downtown Wichita arena TIF district.

The December 2, 2008 public hearing as conducted by the Wichita City Council concerning the expansion of the Center City South Redevelopment TIF District was not a true and meaningful public hearing. Therefore, we ask that you withdraw the proposal until a proper public hearing can be held before the City Council. This issue needs to be sent to the District Advisory Boards (DAB) for their review. Wichita citizens in general and DAB boards both need all the details and a complete cost analysis for this TIF district scheme.

Let me refer you to Randy Brown’s letter in the Eagle (see “Reopen TIF issue” Dec. 7), referring to Bob Weeks’ letter in the Eagle (see “TIF public hearing was bait and switch” Dec. 5) that hit the nail on the head by saying, “conducting the public’s business in secret causes citizens to lose respect for government officials and corrupts the process of democracy.” Brown further states, “… we (the people) had a mockery of the public hearing process rather than an open and transparent discussion of a contentious public issue. The Wichita officials involved should publicly apologize, and the issue should be reopened. And this time, the public should be properly notified.”

The citizens of this community deserve open, honest, and transparent government. The Wichita City Council needs to hold a new and open public hearing on this issue before proceeding with the implementation of this project.

Randy Brown: Reopen Downtown Wichita Arena TIF Public Hearing

In a letter in yesterday’s Wichita Eagle, Randy Brown comments on my recent op-ed piece in the same newspaper. He is senior fellow at the Elliott School of Communication at Wichita State University, and also the executive director of the Kansas Sunshine Coalition for Open Government. He’s done a lot to promote openness and transparency in government. His experience as an editorial writer for the Wichita Eagle shows in his use of vividly descriptive language like “under cover of Monday evening’s darkness” and “aggravated assault on its spirit.” I wish I could write like that.

Here’s Randy’s letter:

Reopen TIF issue

I’m fairly well acquainted with Bob Weeks, our extraconservative government watchdog. It’s fair to say that I agree with Weeks no more than one time in every 20 issues. But that one time is crucial to our democracy.

Weeks is dead-on target when he says that conducting the public’s business in secret causes citizens to lose respect for government officials and corrupts the process of democracy (“TIF public hearing was bait and switch,” Dec. 5 Opinion). And that’s what happened when significant 11th-hour changes to the already controversial and questionable tax-increment financing plan for the downtown arena neighborhood were sneaked onto the Wichita City Council’s Tuesday agenda, essentially under cover of Monday evening’s darkness.

This may not have been a technical violation of the Kansas Open Meetings Act, but it was an aggravated assault on its spirit. Among other transgressions, we had a mockery of the public hearing process rather than an open and transparent discussion of a contentious public issue.

The Wichita officials involved should publicly apologize, and the issue should be reopened. And this time, the public should be properly notified.

Randy Brown
Executive director
Kansas Sunshine Coalition for Open Government

Sharon Fearey’s Bad Joke

At the Tuesday December 2, 2008 meeting of the Wichita City Council, a property owner was present. This man, owner of the Nifty Nut House, a popular store for nuts and treats, was in front of the council when council member Sharon Fearey asked this question:

“Do we all get free nuts or anything?”

(Laughter from the council and audience.)

“Just kidding! You can’t buy our vote!”

It’s troubling to me when elected officials think things like this are funny. Why was she even thinking of this? The Nifty Nut House has great products. I was thinking about them as I sat in the audience at this meeting. But why did council member Sharon Fearey think it would be funny to suggest that the council members get free nuts?

Incidents like this are why citizens have a poor attitude towards government and its officials.

Wichita TIF public hearing was bait and switch

This appeared in today’s Wichita Eagle.

On Tuesday December 2, 2008, the Wichita City Council held a public hearing on the expansion of the Center City South Redevelopment District, commonly known as the downtown Wichita arena TIF district. As someone with an interest in this matter, I watched the city’s website for the appearance of the agenda report for this meeting. This document, also known as the “green sheets” and often several hundred pages in length, contains background information on items appearing on the meeting’s agenda.

At around 11:30 am Monday, the day before the meeting, I saw that the agenda report was available. I download it and printed the few pages of interest to me.

At the meeting Tuesday morning, I was surprised to hear council member Jim Skelton expressed his dismay that a change to the TIF plan wasn’t included in the material he printed and took home to read. This change, an addition of up to $10,000,000 in spending on parking, is material to the project. It’s also controversial, and if the public had known of this plan, I’m sure that many speakers would have attended the public hearing.

But the public didn’t have much notice of this controversial change to the plan. Inspection of the agenda report document — the version that contains the parking proposal — reveals that it was created at 4:30 pm on Monday. I don’t know how much longer after that it took to be placed on the city’s website. But we can conclude that citizens — and at least one city council member — didn’t have much time to discuss and debate the desirability of this parking plan.

The news media didn’t have time, either. Reporting in the Wichita Eagle on Monday and Tuesday didn’t mention the addition of the money for parking.

This last-minute change to the TIF plan tells us a few things. First, it reveals that the downtown arena TIF plan is a work in progress, with major components added on-the-fly just a few days before the meeting. That alone gives us reason to doubt its wisdom. Citizens should demand that the plan be withdrawn until we have sufficient time to discuss and deliberate matters as important as this. What happened on Tuesday doesn’t qualify as a meaningful public hearing on the actual plan. A better description is political bait and switch.

Second, when the business of democracy is conducted like this, citizens lose respect for both the government officials involved and the system itself. Instead of openness and transparency in government, we have citizens and, apparently, even elected officials shut out of the process.

Third, important questions arise: Why was the addition of the parking plan not made public until the eleventh hour? Was this done intentionally, so that opponents would not have time to prepare, or to even make arrangements to attend the meeting? Or was it simple incompetence and lack of care?

The officials involved — council members Jeff Longwell and Lavonta Williams, who negotiated the addition of the parking with county commissioners; Allen Bell, who is Wichita’s director of urban development; and Mayor Carl Brewer — need to answer to the citizens of Wichita as to why this important business was conducted in this haphazard manner that disrespects citizen involvement.

Additional coverage:
Wichita TIF Districts Mean Central Government Planning
Downtown Wichita Arena TIF District Testimony
Jim Skelton is Frustrated
Downtown Wichita Arena TIF District Still a Bad Idea
Wichita Mayor and City Council Prefer to Work Out of Media Spotlight
Wichita’s Naysayers Are Saying Yes to Liberty
Tiff over Wichita TIFs
Downtown Wichita Arena TIF District
Do Wichita TIF Districts Create Value?
Wichita City Council’s Misunderstanding of Tax Increment Financing
Tax Increment Financing in Wichita Benefits Few
Tax Increment Financing in Iowa

Downtown Wichita Arena TIF District Testimony

At the December 2, 2008 meeting of the Wichita City Council, John Todd and I testified against the expansion of the Center City South Redevelopment tax increment financing (TIF) District, commonly known as the downtown Wichita arena TIF district.

You can read John’s remarks here, or watch a video from YouTube here. Bob’s remarks are here, or click here for the YouTube video.

Jim Skelton is Frustrated

At yesterday’s meeting of the Wichita City Council, council member Jim Skelton expressed his frustration with last-minute additions to the plan for the Center City South Redevelopment tax increment financing (TIF) District, commonly known as the downtown Wichita arena TIF district.

The problem is two-fold: First, when plans change at the last minute, there is no time for any debate or discussion about the changes. Citizens, and even newspaper reporters, don’t have time to prepare. Second, when a major project — one costing many millions and requiring multi-year commitments by local governments — is apparently planned on the fly, it doesn’t inspire much confidence in the people in charge.

Wichita Center City South Redevelopment TIF District Testimony

From John Todd.

Update: Watch John’s testimony on YouTube here.

Testimony delivered by John Todd before the Wichita City Council on December 2, 2008 in opposition to the proposed Tax Increment Financing (TIF) plan for the Center city South Redevelopment District located generally around the new Intrust Bank Arena.

In 2004, proponents of the new Intrust Arena were assuring voters that their approval of the new arena would provide the “economic boost” and the “synergy” needed for effective downtown redevelopment without the need for increased property taxes. No mention was made at that time of the need for additional taxpayer subsidies for downtown development.

In recent testimony before the City Council, I heard a staff member advise the Mayor and this City Council that county property appraisals in the area adjacent to the new Intrust Area had increased more than 10% in the prior year. Does this proposed TIF District sound like a blighted and declining area headed for economic stagnation? Or is it time for private developers to seize this development opportunity our Mayor envisions, and of course without the need for risking the taxpayer’s wallet that is a common element in private/public partnerships?

Since the parcels of land around the new Intrust Arena appear to be owned by dozens of small private property and business owners, private developers will need to assemble the parcel(s) they need for development through voluntary exchange rather than through government’s involuntary and coercive taking of property by either the threat of eminent domain or the actual use of eminent domain. Street improvements, if needed for the project(s), should be paid for by the private developers or through the use of special assessment financing. Can anyone believe that city and/or county planners failed to plan for the street improvements needed for the new arena and a method of paying for them prior to beginning construction of the arena? (Note: In addition to the nearly $12 million TIF proposal for streets, a last minute change added an additional $10 million the TIF for a parking garage.) Also, I believe the original Arena project the voters approved in 2004 included $14 million dollars for a parking garage.

One doesn’t have to look very far around our city to see and appreciate the success of our many risk-taking private developers who through their knowledge of the market and their problem solving abilities, plus most importantly the investment of their own money, continue to expand our tax base, create jobs, and enhance our quality of life. Perhaps these are the people you need to call on to bid on downtown development work without the need for a massive public subsidy?

Late Changes Don’t Inspire Confidence in Wichita Government

At today’s Wichita City Council meeting, Councilmember Jim Skelton revealed that the plan for the downtown Wichita arena TIF district had changed. A provision for up to $10 million in parking was added.

I had looked at the agenda report less than 24 hours before the start of the meeting. The plan for parking spending was not mentioned. I looked right now, and yes, it’s there.

There’s a problem when things change so quickly. Citizens can’t prepare themselves on such short notice. That’s a problem for openness and transparency in government.

This problem is in addition to the apparent uncertainty as to what’s needed for this TIF district to succeed.

The TIF district passed, with all city council members voting in favor.

Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer’s Reformulated TIF Plan Still a Bad Idea

Today the Wichita City Council holds a special meeting to consider a reformulated plan to provide tax increment financing (TIF) for the area surrounding the downtown Wichita arena. It’s still a bad idea.

It appears there are two major changes in the new plan. First, the TIF district is smaller. Second, spending on the district would be 70 percent of the new property taxes — the “increment” — instead of 100 percent.

Why is this plan a bad idea? Why, you may be asking, aren’t I in favor of development and progress in downtown?

To me, there’s a difference between entrepreneurs working in markets and government centralized planning. That’s one of the reasons why I oppose this TIF district. It represents government making plans for us, rather than people deciding themselves what they want. It’s the difference between political entrepreneurs — who work to please elected officials — and market entrepreneurs — who work to please customers.

If it turns out that when people express their preferences freely that they don’t really want much downtown development, that’s okay with me. I, for one, do not feel that I have the superior knowledge needed to tell people where they should go for fun and entertainment. I’d rather let people decide themselves.

I’m not willing to use the blunt tool of government to direct people and their money to where I think it should go. I wouldn’t do that even if I was convinced I was right.

But there are people in Wichita who don’t share my view of free people trading freely in free markets. Mayor Carl Brewer and several city council members — Sharon Fearey and Lavonta Williams being most prominent among them — and quasi-governmental organizations such as the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation feel differently. They feel that they know better than Wichitans do where development should be happening, and they’re willing to use the tools of government to force their vision upon you.

This is what’s happening at this time. This is why Wichitans need to oppose this TIF district.

Other article about TIF districts in Wichita: Do Wichita TIF Districts Create Value?, Downtown Wichita Arena TIF District, Wichita City Council’s Misunderstanding of Tax Increment Financing, Tax Increment Financing in Wichita Benefits Few, Tiff over Wichita TIFs, and Wichita City Manager’s Warning is Too Late.

City Council divvies up tax dollars for the arts

A Wichita Eagle news story today tells how City Council divvies up tax dollars for the arts.

Can you imagine sitting through these meetings with people like Joan Cole and other members of the Arts Council as they decide who gets — and who doesn’t get — government largesse?

I imagine that these people actually think they have a heightened vision of what Wichitans should experience for their art and culture.

Why not let ordinary Wichitans decide what they prefer for arts and culture? Why not let the people decide which institutions they want to support, and to what extent?

As I explain in the post Government Art in Wichita: “Is this not a sterling example of an oxymoron? Must government weasel its way into every aspect of our lives?”

Wichita Mayor and City Council Prefer to Work Out of Media Spotlight

In a statement read at the August 26, 2008 meeting of the Wichita City Council (see City Council Acts on Arena Area Redevelopment), Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer expressed his concern that “The naysayers have gotten too much media attention while those who are engaged and do the hard work are too often ignored and criticized.”

I think the mayor’s assessment is a little overblown. Can a tiny group of citizen volunteers — a ragtag group, some might say — manage to outmaneuver the vast resources of the City of Wichita and its allied quasi-governmental organizations such as Visioneering Wichita, Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce, Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition, Wichita Downtown Development Corporation, and the Greater Wichita Convention and Visitors Bureau?

It doesn’t seem likely.

The mayor has the editorial board of the Wichita Eagle, the state’s largest newspaper, squarely behind almost all of his initiatives. Except for the fiasco surrounding the hiring of would-be city manager Pat Salerno, I can’t recall criticism of the mayor on the Eagle’s editorial page, except from citizens who write letters.

I can’t imagine any news reporter in town who, upon receiving an invitation from the mayor to come to his office, would not hurry over to City Hall and report on whatever the mayor said. At length.

The city has a Community Relations Team, consisting of three people (and perhaps other staff) with experience in media. The city’s website fares well in Internet searches, with its pages placing high in the search results pages of Google and other search sites.

We must also remember that the people doing the “hard work” the mayor mentioned are often city staff working at a job just like anyone else. Or, they might work for quasi-governmental groups like those mentioned above.

Importantly, remember that many of these people working for passage of the mayor’s economic initiatives stand to profit handsomely from them. These people — Wichita’s class of political entrepreneurs — prefer to earn their profits mining the halls of government power and the pockets of taxpayers rather than by pleasing customers in free markets. It’s a lot easier to please the mayor and a majority of the city council rather than working hard in the marketplace. These people get their share of media attention. They richly deserve criticism.

I believe that the mayor and the city council thought that passage of the expansion of the TIF district surrounding the downtown arena would be business as usual. But thanks to council member Paul Gray and a few snippets of coverage here and there in the newspaper, things didn’t proceed as usual.

Wichita’s Naysayers Shortchanged in Council’s Record

On August 12, 2008, the Wichita City Council considered the establishment of a TIF district that would benefit Reverend Kevass Harding and his real estate development team. At the council meeting Reverend Harding spoke, and then John Todd spoke, and then myself. We all spoke for, I would guess, roughly the same amount of time.

On Monday August 18 I looked at the city’s website to read the minutes from that meeting. I printed the part of the minutes that covered this item. My printout may be seen in this image. But you don’t need to look at the printout to see what concerns me:

Reverend Harding’s remarks are covered using about 227 words in the minutes.

John’s remarks are covered using 24 words.

Mine are covered using 11 words.

Why the discrepancy? The mayor calls John and I “naysayers.” It is as simple, and as blatant, as that?

(John’s testimony may be read in the post Testimony Opposing Tax Increment Financing for the Ken Mar Redevelopment Project, and mine may be read in Reverend Kevass Harding’s Wichita TIF District: A Bad Deal in Several Ways. I make these remarks available on this website before I deliver my testimony, and I email notice of its posting to all council members plus a few other people at city hall.)

Even more curious, after we three testified, Mayor Carl Brewer delivered his “covered wagon” speech. You can read my transcription of it in Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer, August 12, 2008, and some commentary in Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer Saves Us From Covered Wagons.

But nowhere in the minutes is it recorded that the mayor spoke, much less what he spoke about.

Then, even more curious, the minutes of this meeting are not available on the city council’s website today (Wednesday August 20, 2008). The minutes of the August 5 meeting are missing, too. A short while ago I wrote and asked for an explanation.

August 21, 2008 update: The missing city council minutes have been located. I forgot that they’ve been moved. The page Council Meetings Video On Demand is where minutes may be found.

Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer, August 12, 2008

Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer delivered these remarks after John Todd and I testified against the creation of a tax increment financing (TIF) district benefiting Wichita minister Kevass Harding. My remarks can be read here: Reverend Kevass Harding’s Wichita TIF District: A Bad Deal in Several Ways. John’s remarks are here: Testimony Opposing Tax Increment Financing for the Ken Mar Redevelopment Project.

I took the time to transcribe the mayor’s remarks not only because I think Wichitans need to know more about his philosophy of the way government should work, but also because they reveal a few of the mayor’s beliefs that I found astonishing. The mayor appeared to be speaking informally, without prepared remarks.

Commentary on the mayor’s remarks is here: Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer Saves Us From Covered Wagons. Video is at Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer on role of government and free enterprise.

Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer: You know, I think that a lot of individuals have a lot of views and opinions about philosophy as to, whether or not, what role the city government should play inside of a community or city. But it’s always interesting to hear various different individuals’ philosophy or their view as to what that role is, and whether or not government or policy makers should have any type of input whatsoever.

I would be afraid, because I’ve had an opportunity to hear some of the views, and under the models of what individuals’ logic and thinking is, if government had not played some kind of role in guiding and identifying how the city was going to grow, how any city was going to grow, I’d be afraid of what that would be. Because we would still be in covered wagons and horses. There would be no change.

Because the stance is let’s not do anything. Just don’t do anything. Hands off. Just let it happen. So if society, if technology, and everything just goes off and leaves you behind, that’s okay. Just don’t do anything. I just thank God we have individuals that have enough gumption to step forward and say I’m willing to make a change, I’m willing to make a difference, I’m willing to improve the community. Because they don’t want to acknowledge the fact that improving the quality of life, improving the various different things, improving bringing in businesses, cleaning up street, cleaning up neighborhoods, doing those things, helping individuals feel good about themselves: they don’t want to acknowledge that those types of things are important, and those types of things, there’s no way you can assess or put a a dollar amount to it.

Not everyone has the luxury to live around a lake, or be able to walk out in their backyard or have someone come over and manicure their yard for them, not everyone has that opportunity. Most have to do that themselves.

But they want an environment, sometimes you have to have individuals to come in and to help you, and I think that this is one of those things that going to provide that.

This community was a healthy thriving community when I was a kid in high school. I used to go in and eat pizza after football games, and all the high school students would go and celebrate.

But, just like anything else, things become old, individuals move on, they’re forgotten in time, maybe the city didn’t make the investments that they should have back then, and they walk off and leave it.

But new we have someone whose interested in trying to revive it. In trying to do something a little different. In trying to instill pride in the neighborhood, trying to create an environment where it’s enticing for individuals to want to come back there, or enticing for individuals to want to live there.

So I must commend those individuals for doing that. But if we say we start today and say that we don’t want to start taking care of communities, then tomorrow we’ll be saying we don’t want more technology, and then the following day we’ll be saying we don’t want public safety, and it won’t take us very long to get back to where we were at back when the city first settled.

So I think this is something that’s a good venture, it’s a good thing for the community, we’ve heard from the community, we’ve seen the actions of the community, we saw it on the news what these communities are doing because they know there’s that light at the end of the tunnel. We’ve seen it on the news. They’ve been reporting it in the media, what this particular community has been doing, and what others around it.

And you know what? The city partnered with them, to help them generate this kind of energy and this type of excitement and this type of pride.

So I think this is something that’s good. And I know that there’s always going to be people who are naysayers, that they’re just not going to be happy. And I don’t want you to let let this to discourage you, and I don’t want the comments that have been heard today to discourage the citizens of those neighborhoods. And to continue to doing the great work that they’re doing, and to continue to have faith, and to continue that there is light at the end of the tunnel, and that there is a value that just can’t be measured of having pride in your community and pride in your neighborhood, and yes we do have a role to be able to help those individuals trying to help themselves.

Testimony Opposing Tax Increment Financing for the Ken Mar Redevelopment Project

Testimony of John Todd, opposing the formation of a tax increment financing (TIF) district, delivered to the Wichita City Council on August 12, 2008.

Mr. Mayor and members of the Wichita City Council, thank you for allowing me this opportunity to speak before you today. My name is John Todd. I stand before you today as a citizen in opposition to the Establishment of a Redevelopment District, Tax Increment Financing for the Ken Mar Redevelopment Project. (District I)

There are dozens of neighborhood shopping centers across Wichita that have a greater need for redevelopment than the Ken Mar shopping center that you are considering for public taxpayer assistance today.

The question that needs to be answered today is, “What is the Proper Role of Government Relating to Economic Development Activity?” And the specific question the council needs to answer before granting public money for this project is: “Why is the Ken Mar shopping center being considered for public money, and not the dozens of similar shopping centers across our city, with particular emphasis on those dozens of centers possessing greater redevelopment needs than Ken Mar?”

It is my understanding that the proposed Ken Mar TIF is $2.5 million dollars. A commercial real estate broker friend of mine advised me that in his opinion, the Ken Mar center redevelopment project would not work without the $2.5 million public cash infusion. My reply to this observation: 1. If the potential owners/buyers for Ken Mar have not closed on their purchase transaction of the shopping center, perhaps as part of their contract “due diligence” clause, they need to negotiate $2.5 million dollars off the purchase price of the Ken Mar center, and in the event they fail to obtain the lower purchase price, they need to either scale back their plans for the redevelopment of the center or to simply walk away from the project since the project is not economically feasible for them. 2. Or, if on the other hand, the current owners of Ken Mar paid $2.5 million dollars more than the shopping center was worth, what makes them immune from taking responsibility for this $2.5 million dollar error in judgment? And 3. If this City Council were truly acting as stewards of the public treasury, why would you even consider using public money to correct this alleged $2.5 million developer-problem?

In a free-market economic system, private business enterprises should have the opportunity and the freedom to succeed and to enjoy the fruits of their success. By the same token, they should also have the freedom to fail and suffer whatever consequences that brings. Thousands of other businesses enterprises across our city play by these rules every day without the government parachute or the backing of the public treasury that is being considered for this private group. Why should the Ken Mar shopping center group be an exception to these rules?

Please vote against the proposed TIF.

Wichita City Council’s misunderstanding of tax increment financing

On July 8, 2008 I testified at a public hearing at a Wichita city council meeting. Afterward, a council member told me that I had a “glaring error” in my arguments. I won’t identify this member in order to avoid embarrassing the member. The minutes of the meeting don’t identify the member who said this, but video is available.

My purpose in testifying that day was not to question the merits of tax increment financing (TIF) districts. Instead, I was identifying an ethics problem that a Wichita school board member has regarding his involvement in a proposed TIF district. (See Reverend Kevass Harding and His Wichita TIF District.) In my testimony I stated, with a qualification, that the applicant for this TIF district was asking for relief from paying some of the property tax for his real estate development. After my testimony, a council member told me that I was wrong, that the TIF district won’t allow someone to avoid paying property taxes. True, I said. It was sloppy for me to have said that without clarification, but it wasn’t the point I was making that day.

But since the city council member brought up the point, let’s examine how TIF districts work. I am sure you will be able to agree that the use of TIF districts allow developers to effectively avoid paying some of their increased property taxes.

In material prepared by Wichita’s Office of Urban Development and presented at the March 18, 2008 city council meeting, we may read this: “The developers have identified a financing shortfall of $2.5 million, for which they are seeking tax increment financing assistance. The preliminary project budget presented to City staff indicates that TIF funds would need to be used for site acquisition costs in order to spend $2.5 million on project costs eligible for TIF funding.”

So without the formation of the TIF district, the developers are $2.5 million short. With the TIF district, they’ve got the money they need. We must conclude, then, that the TIF district financing, no matter what it is used for, is worth $2.5 million to the developers.

Now if the developers borrowed that money from a bank, they’d pay back the loan over some period of years. Each year, out of the cash flow the project generates, the developers would have to make the loan payments, and also, just like everyone else, they’d have to pay their property taxes. (Those taxes have increased as now the development is worth more due to the improvements made by the developer. That’s the “increment” in TIF.)

But with a TIF district, the “bank” is the City of Wichita, which issued bonds to pay for the benefits the developers needed to make the project work. So the developers have to pay back the city. But instead of making payments on a loan from a bank and their property taxes, all the TIF developers have to do is pay their property taxes. By merely paying the same taxes that everyone else has to pay, their loan (the bonds issued by the City of Wichita) is repaid.

That’s why a TIF district allows developers to effectively avoid paying some of the increased property taxes on their development. When a development is undertaken without the benefit of a TIF district, developers have to repay loans and pay higher taxes. With a TIF district, all the developers have to pay is higher taxes.

It is as simple as this.

Wichita Council Member Jeff Longwell: We Can, and Do, Read

Wichita City Council Member Jeff Longwell, in the news article Little time to review Warren loan terms (July 1, 2008 Wichita Eagle), was reported as remarking “It’s unlikely many residents would read the full contract even if it had been made public earlier.”

Mr. Longwell, many people in Wichita do read documents such as these. I think a better question is whether city council members read and understand these documents. This is from before Mr. Longwell’s time on the council, but in the article The Real Scandal at City Hall, I report how city council members are sometimes not aware of even the most basic facts about city affairs:

… council members were described as being surprised upon learning that the industrial revenue bonds and property tax abatement awarded to a local business also included a sales tax break. How could they be surprised? The City of Wichita website contains a nicely-done page titled “Industrial Revenue Bonds” (located at http://www.wichitagov.org/Business/EconomicDevelopment/IRB) (This is the first result that appears when you use the wildly popular Google search engine and search for “Wichita IRB.”) The first link on this page is titled “IRB Overview: Industrial Revenue Bond Issuance in the State of Kansas,” and you don’t have to read very far before you come to the sentence reading “Generally, property and services acquired with the proceeds of IRBs are eligible for sales tax exemption.”

(The city’s website has been rearranged a little since then. The new location for this page is http://www.wichita.gov/CityOffices/CityManager/Urban/EconomicDevelopment/IRB/.)

Besides being wrong on whether people read documents like these, I think Mr. Longwell’s statement reveals an unfortunate attitude towards the people of Wichita. I don’t think he always felt this way, as earlier this year it was reported he “strongly believes in transparency in government.” (Rule seeks to stop leaks after private city council meetings)

Mr. Longwell is correct in that the Old Town Warren Theater loan documents should have been released to the city council and the public earlier. Mr. Longwell could have shown us evidence of his belief in transparency by moving to delay yesterday’s council action until these documents could be read, digested, and debated.

Wichita Old Town Warren Theater Public Hearing Remarks

From John Todd.

Testimony I presented before the Wichita City Council on July 1, 2008 in opposition to the proposed Old Town Warren Theater LLC loan.

The question before the council today relates to the proper role of government.

I believe the role of government is that of acting as a non-partial judge from the sidelines, protecting the rights and property of all citizens, through the rule of law, and not acting as a participant in any activity, particularly economic, that places it in a partnership role with one group of citizens to the exclusion of all others. When government becomes an active participant in economic activity or acts as an agent for one party to the exclusion of other citizens, it abdicates its proper role of providing the legal framework and physical security needed for private economic activity.

The dilemma our city faces today is a result of its participation in an economic activity that it should never have been involved in, in the first place. For starters, our city government needs to divorce itself from further involvement with the Old Town Warren Theater project for a number of reasons.

Our city is not a bank, and the proposed loan being discussed today is an inappropriate role for city government.

If the Old Town Theater group is facing financial problems, they need solve those problems without help from the public treasury. Based on what I have read about the principals in this group, I believe they possess the management talent and skills to succeed without public assistance.

The beautiful thing about the free-market is the freedom for a business enterprise to succeed and enjoy the fruits of that success. By the same token, a business should be allowed the freedom to fail, and suffer whatever consequences that brings. Thousands of other businesses across our city play by those same rules every day without the government parachute or the backing of the public treasury that is being proposed for this private group. The Old Town Theater project owners should be no exception to these rules.

I talk daily to other people in our city and have found no public support for the Old Town Theater loan, and, in fact, I have been surprised at the high level of outrage people are expressing towards this proposal.

I request that you vote NO for this project. I believe, by voting NO, you will be exercising the will of your constituents and the public, and will be exercising the stewardship they expect from you as their elected officials.

P.S. After a strong lecture from Mayor Carl Brewer about the economic advantages of public/private partnerships like Old Town, the council voted 6-0 to grant the Old Town Warren Theater loan with Council Member Jim Skelton abstaining from the vote.

NOTE: I had the following material ready for presentation, but decided not to be too philosophical with the council so I did not present either.

I believe a quote by 18th Century French economist Frederic Bastiat, is appropriate for today’s discussion when he was describing the socialism that permeated his native France when he said, and I quote: “The state is that great fiction by which everyone tries to live at the expense of everyone else.” I believe Bastiat would describe the work of today’s city council as legal plunder or the use of political power to redistribute wealth from others what they are unwilling to obtain through the voluntary exchange in the marketplace.

To paraphrase a statement made by President Cleveland prior to 1900 when he was called upon to save a struggling orphanage in New York City during a severe economic crises. He said something to the effect, that “I cannot be a party to taking money (from the public treasury) from one group of citizens and give it to another group of citizens, no matter how worthy the cause, it is the responsibility of citizens to support their government, it is not governments responsibility to support its citizens.”

Remarks to Wichita City Council, April 1, 2008

Following are remarks I delivered to the Wichita City Council, asking them to not approve tax increment financing (TIF) for a project in Wichita. The council approved the financing by a vote of six to one. Thank you to council member Paul Gray for his dissenting vote.

Mr. Mayor and members of the Wichita City Council, I ask you to not approve this TIF financing request, and to cease this practice in the future.

We need to allow markets to channel capital and investment to where people value it greatest. The profit and loss system provides that guidance.

By asking for the TIF financing, developers are sending us a signal that without the special tax favor, their project would not be economically feasible. They evidently have judged that it would not be profitable. They must feel that they will not be able to sell or rent at prices that will cover their costs of developing this project.

This means that proceeding with the project is investing capital somewhere other than its most-valued use. We know that because developers build other things in Wichita without receiving a subsidy, and they are able to earn a profit.

Now this project may satisfy the political goals of some people who believe that not enough development is happening in their politically-desired part of town. But these people are not spending their own money to accomplish this goal.

If these developers want to build something in this area, they need to figure out what will appeal to people, what will fill enough of a need, that the project is profitable on its own. That’s how we will know that this investment is wise. They won’t have to appear before governmental bodies seeking approval for their plans. They can just do it.

That’s market entrepreneurship. It is the way that wealth is created. These developers, instead, are practicing political entrepreneurship, where they seek to please various governmental bodies, rather than satisfying consumers who express their desires through the mechanism of markets.

This leads to a corrosive environment where nearly every week someone appears before this council requesting special treatment, that favor paid for by the rest of the the community. This is harmful.

Supporters of TIF explain them in a way that makes it seem as though there is no cost involved in granting the subsidy. But there is. Why would these developers want them, and why would this council not grant them to everyone if there were no cost?

I propose a pledge that this council could take that will help our community become aware of the cost of these subsidies, and will also alleviate some of the inequity. When the City of Wichita grants special tax treatment, it must reduce its spending by the same amount. By following this simple rule, the City can be reminded of the cost of granting special tax favors, and the rest of us won’t have to pay for them.