Written by Heart Beat staff
"What puzzles me tonight is that this is not a normal process -- at all."
COLUMBIA, Mo 2/18/14 (Analysis) -- Substantive public testimony (excerpts below) followed a Columbia city management TIF presentation last night that raised
absurd political theatre to new heights.
The unwitting centerpiece: deputy finance director Lynn Cannon, who shed more light on City Hall's secretive, poorly-understood finances by showing how little she
either understood -- or was willing to share -- with City Council members pressing for precise dollar figures.
How much money, exactly, does City Hall have, in local banks, in liquid investments, in cash? they repeatedly asked. If we have money, why TIF?
Instead of clear answers, the audience got a 20-minute game of "pass the buck," with contradictory staff testimony, wildly-variable numbers, nervous laughter, and a look of near terror on Cannon's face.
She tried to push back on an idea that's gaining ground after decades of deliberate uncertainty: City Hall is sitting on far more money than city administrators -- and the powerful special interests they subsidize -- want the public and the Council to know.
Last night's public testimony came as a welcome relief from the shoddy theatrics Matthes' staff deployed to gloss over both TIF and treasury.
Public hearing highlights, in order of appearance:
We have to address how these developers buy into the system. We need to address infrastructure funding on the developer's side. Developers are getting a great deal in Columbia. They're getting a super, super deal on what they buy into, in terms of developers fees and construction fees. Columbia's a win. TIF has a place, but it needs to be surgically used, on a project by project basis. I don't think we need a sweeping TIF to entice people to come to Columbia. "
-- Anthony Stanton
Given that my neighborhood, North Central Columbia, is wholly within the proposed TIF District, and that some of the proposed projects will have a direct impact on my neighborhood, I respectfully ask Council to establish, prior to committing to any financial mechanism, the recommended neighborhood planning process [in the Columbia Imagined Visioning guide] for my and all neighborhoods that will be affected by TIF-financed projects. -- Dan Cullimore
Most of the money from these projects, including that 25-story monstrosity, is going to leave this community. The developers expect the city to build the infrastructure, and then they can build their monstrous new projects on top of it and take the money somewhere else. I consider that nothing less than extortion by these greedy speculators. Let them pay the cost of their own impacts out of their own profits." -- Peter Yronwode
I understand you guys have an infrastructure problem. You made some mistakes and you should take ownership of them. But that doesn't mean we all have to go and rush into something without fully understanding the issues. -- John Lory, speaking directly to Mike Matthes and his staff
I've lived here for 35 years. I've made this my home. I am excited to see there's interest in building up the downtown. But I see this as an opportunity to build this city right, and not necessarily have 25-story apartment buildings right next to Peace Park. If we create all these TIF funds, in my view, then we have an open ticket to build things we haven't planned for. -- Alyce Turner
There's been this rush to TIF and folks are saying, no, we don't want to rush. We support a user-based development impact fee. If we're talking about not having enough money, we do not have to tax our citizens and or defer property taxes from other entities. We propose for all infrastructure, a user based model. -- Monta Welch, People's Visioning
People are clamoring to build here. We don't need to give them anymore handouts. The developers who build here should have to pay the costs of what they're building, and not impose it on the rest of us. -- Diane Meeker, Columbia area National Organization for Women
I've lived in the downtown area most of my adult life. I don't think time is short; time is long. You don't have to rush things. TIF is a specific tool for specific problems. To make it into a sweeping opportunity to finance developments because someone sees a golden opportunity is wrongheaded. -- David Owens
My wife and I are opposed to this whole TIF process. Seems to me there is really too little citizen input. It seems to me there is a fair amount of uncertainty on the parts of some of you of what exactly is going on here. My sage advice: don't rush to judgment. -- Chuck Headley, former Columbia School Board member
I'm neither for nor against the TIF and I want to compliment city staff for all the work they've done. But there is an air of uncertainty about all this. It may be a great plan -- and it may not be. But there seems to be a lot of disconnect, and I hope you'll table it. -- Richard Shanker
Mayor McDavid has characterized this as a "generational opportunity." This IS a generational opportunity -- to give away the whole store. This TIF won't pay for itself. There's no way it will ever pay for itself. Is that the legacy you want to leave for your service on the Council? -- John Clark, attorney at law
I'm not opposed to a TIF in concept at all. In my professional life, I've assisted developers in getting TIFs approved through a normal process. What puzzles me tonight is that this is not a normal process -- at all. The TIF Commission's process hasn't yet begun, but we're here tonight hearing the entire TIF proposal from Staff. Process, particularly with big, identity-shaping development projects, is very, very important. -- Jeremy Root, attorney at law
TIF Districts can be very helpful and constructive. But how can you put this TIF before the review and revision of the commercial zoning code? Aren't you thwarting your own investment in improving the quality of development through revising our code, by facilitating a community-altering development prior to that review and revision? -- Tracy Greever-Rice, Ph.D.