District, developers closer on TIF accord

After months of behind-the-scenes negotiating, it appears the issue of a tax increment financing district for a 900-acre residential subdivision around Cape Girardeau's newest golf course is moving forward.

To recap, TIFs are economic development tools that allow increased tax revenue from a development to be used to pay off bonds sold to raise money for infrastructure for that development. Depending on your point of view, a TIF is either a good way to encourage development now to stimulate the economy later, or a way to abate tax revenue that goes to local school districts and other taxing entities.

In this case, the TIF would benefit Prestwick Plantation, a large housing development surrounding the new Dalhousie Golf Club. The golf course has already been developed with private funding and isn't covered by the TIF proposal.

One taxing entity in particular has been at loggerheads with the Prestwick developers: the Cape Girardeau School District.

The district's concerns are understandable. The district was originally offered a $4 million payment in lieu of taxes from Prestwick to cover the next 23 years of the TIF project. Without the Prestwick development, the school district would have received $13 million from that property over the next 23 years, according to a consultant hired by the city.

Of course, if the district were to receive all the property-tax revenue from the planned development -- the homes and other improvements -- the amount would be millions more. But, under a TIF, any additional tax revenue would be used to pay off the bonds.

Mark Bowles, school district superintendent, wasn't interested in the $4 million. After negotiations between Bowles and the Prestwick folks, the developers have expressed a willingness to give the school district $13 million, the same amount the district could expect to receive without the development. In addition, Prestwick has offered pay up to $8 million for a new elementary school if the development produces enough students to warrant a new school in that area.

However, Bowles says he is opposed to all tax abatements as a matter of principle, because school districts are set up to raise local support through property taxes. School officials aren't supposed to have to bargain for financial support, he says.

Thus, he says he is prepared to tell the TIF Commission, a group appointed to make a recommendation to the Cape Girardeau City Council, that he opposes the TIF district but that it won't hurt the school district. The school board will have the final say on whether to formally endorse the proposition, and the city council will vote on whether to grant it.

Either TIFs hurt the district or they don't. If they don't, why wouldn't the superintendent offer his wholehearted support? And if TIF projects and other tax-abatement programs are detrimental to the school district, why not fight any such economic stimulus plan?