School officials look for input on TIF deal

Wednesday, February 19, 2003

Officials in the Cape Girardeau School District will take an important step at Monday night's school board meeting toward giving their approval to a financing proposal made by developers of a 900-acre subdivision.

Superintendent Mark Bowles said he is encouraging members of the public to attend the meeting, at which school board members will view a formal presentation on the issue of tax-increment financing, and discuss the proposal with Prestwick Plantation developers and independent banking consultants.

"It's not an open forum, but I think it will be an extremely educational exchange," Bowles said. "Having our patrons well-educated about TIF is really important to us because we want them to understand our final decision."

Monday night will be the first open meeting in which developers will have the opportunity to answer questions posed by the school board and developers, and the first opportunity for community members to sit in on TIF discussions.

"It's crucial that the public attend this meeting," said Mark Carver, vice president of the school board. "If you live in Cape Girardeau and have a child in the district, you need to be there because this is a big issue for the district and the community when we're talking about such a large sum of money."

Asking for $30 million

Last year, Prestwick developers requested $30 million in tax-increment financing to build infrastructure for a new, upscale subdivision near the Dalhousie Golf Club, located off of Bloomfield Road on the western edge of Cape Girardeau.

Tax-increment financing is an economic tool used to encourage development. Prestwick developers have requested that the increased taxes generated from the TIF district go to fund infrastructure in the subdivision area for the next 23 years.

Because this project is almost exclusively residential, the school district would be most affected because it depends on local property taxes for 65 percent of its annual budget.

"I have serious concerns about any kind of action that abates tax money from coming to the school district, especially in a time when school finances are so up in the air," Bowles said.

School board members said they are looking forward to the chance to hear the proposal directly from Prestwick developers.

"I'm expecting we will get the full story from the Prestwick Plantation folks," board member Dr. Steve Trautwein said. "I'm looking forward to hearing comments from the public. This is our main chance to hear in a formal way what the public has to say about this."

While there will not be an open dialogue between the public and the school board during the meeting, Trautwein said anyone wishing to comment can do so by filling out a request card at the beginning of the meeting.

District officials have spent more than five months researching the potential gains and losses from the TIF project.

To ensure that the school district will not lose money, school officials are requesting that the district receive at least the same amount of tax money from the property that it would without the TIF, and that developers provide the land and most of the financial resources to build a new elementary school in the area of the subdivision.

The projected tax revenue that the district would receive from the property without the TIF was determined in a report by Chauncy Buchheit, a consultant with the SEMO Regional Planning and Economic Development Commission.

Bowles said the amount of projected tax revenue varied from year to year, but overall the developers have offered to pay the district a minimum $13 million over the lifetime of the TIF to make up for lost tax revenue.

Generating students

Bowles also said that the 750 new homes slated to be built in the Prestwick subdivision can be expected to generate between 350 and 400 students, and therefore the developers should assume the bulk of the financial responsibility for building the new elementary school.

The district has put an estimated price tag of $8 million on the new elementary school, but Bowles said that amount is subject to change because the district has no real way of knowing exactly what a new school will cost in the future.

"I feel the developers have been very receptive to our needs," Bowles said. "They are very actively pursuing modifying their projections to try to make this something appealing to the district."

Bowles said the school board will spend the next 30 days processing the information obtained at Monday night's meeting before deciding what the district will endorse at their March meeting.

After that, district representatives will go before the city's TIF Commission to offer their official opinions and suggestions about the proposal. The commission, in turn, will make its recommendation to the city council, which will have the final say in whether the TIF deal is approved.

"I have to ask for what best protects the school district," Bowles said. "Whether or not it is doable is the developers' headache and will ultimately be decided by the city council."

cclark@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 128

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