TIF plan now up to commission, council

Saturday, March 22, 2003

Faced with enormous pressure on both sides -- the city's pro-development contingent on one and the anti-tax break contingent on the other -- the Cape Girardeau School Board did what was right regarding a proposal to use tax increment financing (TIF) for a Cape Girardeau housing development.

The board stepped back from a volatile issue, thought about the 4,000-plus children the district serves and made a tough call. In the end, the decision was unanimous.

The issue arose early last year with the plans for perhaps the most talked-about residential development in Cape Girardeau history: Prestwick Plantation. The plans were heady indeed. The 600-acre subdivision would eventually include four neighborhoods, a golf clubhouse, a recreation center including a swimming pool and tennis courts, a community retail center and day care facilities. The homes, town houses and condominiums, would be built on wooded lots around lakes.

And, of course, there was the piece de la resistance: It would all surround the tony Dalhousie Golf Club.

The only kink in the plan, and it was a serious kink, was getting the money. The Prestwick developers asked for a TIF district. In this case, taxes generated from increased assessed values due to construction on the property would go back into infrastructure for the development. The developers would pay taxes on the actual land only.

The Cape Girardeau City Council has the final say about approving a TIF district, but was required to appoint a TIF commission to weigh the pros and cons. The third party with a major stake in the issue was the school district, which stood to lose the newly generated property-tax revenue on the development, and property taxes constitute the majority of the district's budget.

It took awhile to get the developers and the district to the table. When representatives on both sides finally sat down, the district basically asked for two things: land and $8 million to build a new elementary school, and at least the amount of taxes that would be generated from the property alone.

But in the end, school board members determined even this wouldn't be enough. There were simply too many "what ifs" to be sure the financial future of the school district would be protected. That's particularly important as state funding becomes more of a question mark in Missouri's volatile economy.

Perhaps just as important was the fact that the school district might be faced with other TIF proposals which would have much the same impact on the schools finances.

The board adopted a position statement against the TIF proposal. Its decision will be presented to the TIF commission.

Only two questions remain: Will the TIF commission agree with the school district, advising the city council that the project isn't prudent for Cape Girardeau? And will the city council heed that advice?

The school board agonized over this decision. Let's hope the TIF commission and city council do likewise.

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