Our schools, libraries and other essential services are perennial public service underdogs. The Platte County R-3 School District and other entities such as libraries are in a skirmish over redevelopment of the Metro North Mall site. The amount of money that will go to developers rather than tax-supported services is what’s being debated by appointed committees and elected officials in Kansas City’s government structure.
Reporters for The Citizen have followed the issue. Most of Kansas City, and probably many in the Northland, are oblivious.
Meanwhile, a high-profile controversy over tax breaks that Kansas City doles out to developers is raging south of the Missouri River. Or at a minimum, the approved tax breaks for redevelopment of an old building in the Crossroads District by a prominent philanthropist and an architectural firm is drawing publicity.
And perhaps a petition drive for an election to alter decisions.
Two ironies strike me. As I write this, the Kansas City Chiefs are playing the Oakland Raiders. Far, far more people will know the outcome of this football game played by millionaires than the number who are aware or even care about the strategies, players and outcomes in development issues that face schools our children attend.
Secondly, this is playing out in the Christmas season. Metro North was once the center of the Northland’s shopping world during holidays — a place once packed with shoppers is now sadly empty. The exception being a very fine anchor tenant, Macy’s, still going strong and deserving of support.
Tax breaks such as Tax Increment Financing are usually given a life of a few decades before they expire and entities get their full tax payment. But Metro North is a prime example of a business being seemingly permanent, when it is not, while schools continue on.
Platte County R-3 is facing ever-growing growth pressures at a time when average working people, who pay property taxes to support schools, are increasingly frugal about supporting school financing issues at the polls for news schools and expanding the old ones.
Developers have deep pockets, fierce lawyers and support from wide-ranging business interests. Rarely does the human element among those players have children actively attending schools supported by the development in question. The Kansas City City Council can have final say over projects such as what will replace Metro North.
Platte County has representation, but I suspect a small percentage of council members worry much about northern schools. The only dissenting votes for the project came from the two there to represent school districts, including Platte County superintendent Dr. Mike Reik.
Only one other voting member was there representing the other slew of public entities involved. They try to get a fair share. Sometimes they succeed, but most times, their team is far smaller and less powerful than the opponent.
These issues also can involve delicate balances.
If no tax breaks are offered, and the big wealthy investors want to invest their money in projects with higher profit margins, perhaps an iconic site such as Metro North remains bare and empty. There’s a lot of undeveloped land in the Northland. It might be cheaper and more highly profitable to go turn a corn field into a new shopping center.
It is true as well that when Metro North was built, it was the only major player north except for the Antioch Shopping Center farther east. Now there’s serious business competition in both Platte and Clay counties.
However, the Metro North site is in a key location. It’s in the middle of established neighborhoods. But tremendous housing growth is occurring to the north and west. Lots of new shoppers are being added to the old.
The site is in a good place for future mass transit connections. Many vital utility and road connections are in place. The right project is going to be a major money maker for developers and the businesses that locate there.
The taxing entities deserve their fair share of revenue from new projects, so they can serve a growing Northland, but they need support. They need citizens to contact their elected officials. They need voters to ask questions of candidates for public office about views on tax breaks and support those who are conservative with them.
Tax breaks have been painfully out of hand in the Kansas City metro area for a long time. Elected and appointed officials have not been able to fix the problem.
Informed and motivated voters are the best hope for reform.
Bill Graham, who lives in the Platte City area, may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.