David Schiefelbein: I have a dream -- to use your tax money
Apparently, most lakers think the adage “If you build it, they will come” is more than just a memorable line from a great baseball movie. It also holds true in the business world.
And, apparently, most lakers are growing weary of developers asking for special considerations to bring their money-making dreams here.
At least that’s my summarization of the results from last week’s online opinion poll.
We asked our readers, “Should developers be given tax incentives?” and the overwhelming majority don’t think so.
The answer, “No, they should pay taxes like the rest of us,” drew more than half of the 751 responses (53 percent, 400 votes).
Another 10 percent (72) were against them for a less popular, go-back-where-y’all-came-from reason. “No, more developments mean more people.”
Not quite one-third of the respondents echoed a highly popular position among candidates for this spring’s municipal elections.
Thirty percent (227) picked “It depends on the project. It should be decided on a case-by-case basis.”
That answer, which has been condemned by some as a fence-straddling response, is at least open to suggestion while reserving the right to reject ridiculous, unfounded or unworkable ideas.
The answer “Yes, we should do everything we can to spur development,” drew only 7 percent (52) of the poll’s responses.
Hmm, I wouldn’t have guessed that many developers had time to take online opinion polls. Ya’ learn something every day, whether you want to or not.
The biggest strike against tax increment financing districts, community improvement districts, tax abatements and the like is that it gives an unfair advantage to new businesses over established, tax-paying ones.
That might not get said often enough in an area experiencing booming growth, but the real issue that should be debated is what type of new businesses a municipality wants to encourage.
There are some elected officials who always quote the phrase “Some of a little bit is more than all of nothing.”
It’s hard to argue with that singular, isolated statement, but it takes the debate on tax incentives out of context, especially if the proposal is for prime real estate, like major highway frontage, lakefront property or golf courses.
Some developers call these things blighted because they’re not making as much money as they could if they were something else. I have another word for it -- my father’s generation called it “investment.”
I helped cover a “blighted” TIF district project news story in my first newspaper job. A developer wanted to build a shopping center in Marion, Ill., at the intersection of Interstate 57 and the major east-west highway that traverses southern Illinois.
Just west of Marion on Highway 13 is Carbondale, home of Southern Illinois University and, at that time anyway, the Carbondale Mall, a medium-sized, enclosed shopping emporium.
Objections were raised to calling that prime real estate blighted.
The developer was ready, and pounced on the answer like a cat on a struggling mouse.
There had been a federal study released a short time before that called the mid-Mississippi River region of America’s Heartland “the new Appalachia.”
Marion was in southern Illinois, and southern Illinois was included in the study.
Therefore, if southern Illinois was in “the new Appalachia,” any land in it was blighted and qualified for a TIF district, the developer said.
There were a few snickers from the audience that night, but the developer built the huge shopping mall there.
And some here snicker at the suggestion a golf course or lakefront property should be considered blighted.
Incentives can be used to lure new businesses, or expand existing ones.
On that note, I’d like to float what Jerry Pinkham, my first journalism instructor and newspaper adviser, taught us is called a “trial balloon.”
The mayor of Camdenton has publicly stated he is in favor of promoting business growth in the city.
Not much to argue with there.
That being the case, I have a proposition for him, and in the interest of promoting transparency in both government and the media, I’ll make it right here.
No behind-the-scenes “negotiations” or “interest surveys” are necessary for members of the board.
As the editor of this newspaper, it is in my best interests to lobby for moving our company’s regional press from Waynesville to here at Lake of the Ozarks.
A new press would allow us to provide better reproduction and faster printing turnaround times, which would help us in our endeavor to switch to a home delivery circulation model that puts our products on our customers’ driveways by 6 a.m. every day.
The major obstacle I face is that presses are expensive.
No, really expensive.
Between a new state-of-the-art press, and, of course, a new building to house it in, I’m talking a minimum of seven figures, and maybe eight with a view of the lake for my office (and of course, the publisher’s, ad director’s and news editor’s offices as well) now that Camdenton has lake frontage.
Since I’m married with children and work for a living, I don’t really have the cash flow to put up any money of my own to build my dream, so I’m hoping the city will help me with this endeavor.
This plan will provide jobs, even more that we currently do, plus we’ll have land with a higher appraised value when the tax incentive package finally sunsets sometime long after I’m retired.
I can’t really afford the expense of having some high-priced development attorney type up a formal TIF district proposal for me, so maybe the city could front me the money for that as well.
And since I’m kind of busy, maybe the mayor could take this request for me to the board and see if they’ll go along with it, before I actually commit anything to the endeavor -- beyond my own idle day-dreaming, of course.
I’ve known the mayor for quite awhile; he’s a great guy, and I think he’s done a good job guiding the city as its highest elected official.
And I’ve known him to have a great sense of humor.
But I hope he doesn’t think I’m joking about this, because an office overlooking a certain creek wouldn’t be much more of a drive for me, and I love the sound of flowing water.
I’ll be out looking for packing boxes to get ready to move into our new building, so e-mail me at email@example.com.