Tomorrow’s meeting of the Wichita city council will feature a public hearing as to whether a tax increment financing district that benefits Real Development should be modified. The TIF district is already approved in the amount of $9.3 million. The applicants are asking that the city’s contribution be increased to $11.8 million, plus approval of changes to the project plan.
The first issue we should address is the purpose of these public hearings. Presumably notice of their existence is given not only so citizens and interested parties can plan to attend, but also so that there can be discussion of the details of the issue. This second reason is not fulfilled to any meaningful extent. There just isn’t time for anything to happen. The agenda report for this matter did not appear on the city’s website until around noon Friday, just two business days before the hearing.
Furthermore, the plan may be revised as late as today — the day before the public hearing — according to reporting in today’s Wichita Eagle.
There needs to be more time if these public hearings are to be anything but a sham. The city approved April 13 as the date for the public hearing on March 23. So the public hearing is announced, but details of the project are not known. How will the public — much less city council members — become aware of the final plan?
The plan to be heard tomorrow is the second revision of the original plan, which was first approved in 2007. Some may criticize Real Development for the shifting plan. But this is the nature of business. Change, however, is something that government bureaucracy is particularly ill-equipped to deal with.
There are reasons to be concerned with these particular applicants. Several floors in buildings they own in Wichita have been subject of foreclosure actions. While it is not Real Development that failed to pay the loans that were foreclosed on, this happened in buildings Real Development owns and developed with a condominium-style of ownership.
There is also issue of allegations made by tenants of Real Development that it is not performing on its obligations. These tenants will not come forward in public, as they are afraid that if the city stops subsidizing Real Development, the tenants will suffer.
But the largest and overriding issue is that the city should not be directing taxpayer investment outside the market process. It is an undeniable fact that the city is considering forcing Wichita taxpayers to risk an investment of around $10 million in this project. And if the investment doesn’t work out, the city is likely to force Wichitans to spend even more money on this project, as the city did when it made a no-interest and low-interest loan to a downtown theater that was underperforming in its TIF district.
It would be one thing if TIF districts were good for the city, but there is no such evidence. There is evidence that TIF districts are great for the developers — after all, wouldn’t like to have their increase in property taxes spent for their exclusive benefit, which is the purpose of a TIF district — but not so good for the rest of the city. The article Tax Increment Financing: A Tool for Local Economic Development by economists Richard F. Dye and David F. Merriman states, in its conclusion:
TIF districts grow much faster than other areas in their host municipalities. TIF boosters or naive analysts might point to this as evidence of the success of tax increment financing, but they would be wrong. Observing high growth in an area targeted for development is unremarkable.
So TIFs are good for the favored development — not a surprising finding. What about the rest of the city? Continuing from the same study:
We find evidence that the non-TIF areas of municipalities that use TIF grow no more rapidly, and perhaps more slowly, than similar municipalities that do not use TIF.
So TIF districts may actually reduce the rate of economic growth in the rest of the city.
TIF does not increase the total amount of development that takes place in a city or region; it merely transfers development from one part of the region to another. … The new developments in the TIF districts consume fire, police, and other services, but since they don’t pay for those services, people in the rest of the city either have to pay higher taxes or accept a lower level of services. This means people outside the district lose twice: first when developments that might have enhanced their property values are enticed into the TIF district and second when they pay more taxes or receive less services because of the TIF district.
Similar findings apply to the issuance of industrial revenue bonds, as the city issued last week and issues frequently.
Finally, I have a simple question for the mayor, city council, and city staff: Will any downtown development occur without public subsidy?
Resources on tax increment financing:
- O’Toole: TIF is Not “Free Money”
- Kenneth A. Kriz: Tax Increment Financing: Its Effect on Local Government Finances
- Dye, Richard and David Merriman: Tax Increment Financing: A Tool for Local Economic Development
- Dye, Richard and David Merriman: The Effects of Tax Increment Financing on Economic Development
- Danny Santivasci: Tax Increment Financing: Private Investment at the Expense of Local Community