Sunday, December 28, 2008
Looking Forward . . . Looking Back
It is that time of year when newspapers and magazines “wrap up” their stories and pontificate on what kind of a year it was. Usually the “wrap up” comes with a bright glowing picture of the future. The formula is as old as the trees that were chopped down to make the paper it is printed on. Rose Colored Glasses . . . It is good to be optimistic. But sometimes it is better to take off the rose-colored glasses and do a reality check. In the long run, promises of false hope do far more damage than good – particularly in the public’s view of how they are governed. It is difficult to look at Raytown’s future without taking into account some of the past events that are shaping that future as you read this page. The City Council’s experimentation with tax abatements and TIFS is moving forward at an unbridled pace even though there are signs that such machinations are not working. A good example is development of 350 Highway. The one-half cent tax districts that have been created for Walmart and Hy-Vee are already causing a ripple effect through the local economy. Just this past week, Coddington’s Thriftway announced that it will be closing its doors in 2009. Could it be that a 1970’s generation grocery store did not feel it could compete with a 21st Century grocery store that also enjoys lower property taxes and receives one-half cent of every dollar spent in its so-called development district? Late next year the full consequence of the special 23 year deal cut with Walmart will begin to be felt in lost tax dollars. At a recent meeting of the Raytown Board of Aldermen the City Finance Director put the price tag at over $300,000.00 in tax revenue (per year) the city will lose to pay off the debt created by the Walmart TIF. Walmart’s deal is sweeter than Hy-Vee’s. Not only does the retail giant receive a special half-cent sales tax on any sale within its district, they also capture the city’s regular one cent sales tax and half-cent transportation tax. Those tax dollars will not be available to maintain the city’s streets, curbs, sidewalks or other infrastructure needs in 2010. The promise that other developers will rush to build around the new Walmart on 350 Highway will remain just a promise until the economy turns around. Still, there are bright spots . . . Downtown Raytown may be the one bright spot on the city’s horizon. A group of private citizens are working hard to revitalize the oldest part of the city. A large sum of money in the form of federal, state and county grants have infused life into the projects. The city’s landmark eyesore, the old First Baptist Church, will finally come tumbling down. Look for a new bridge over 63rd Street, complete with new lighting, sidewalks, bicycle lanes and improved traffic flow upon completion. However, City Hall needs to make some improvement on how it conducts business with the new clientele it hopes to attract. Any new tax abatements should be written with solid claw back provisions that guarantee the taxpayers that the new tenants downtown are here for the long run. Another Bright Spot . . . Another bright spot is the shifting of policy with regards to street lighting and sidewalk construction. Three years ago the strangle hold former Mayor Sue Frank had on placing new streetlights was finally broken when the Board of Aldermen agree to place new street lights at Colman Park. The last two years has a seen a continuation of the policy of placing new street lights in residential neighborhoods. This year, new curbs and sidewalks were constructed along Hunter Street between 63rd Street and Blue Ridge Boulevard. The curbs and sidewalks were built at my request when I learned that the Raytown School District would not extend pedestrian walkways past the entrance (on Hunter Street) of the new Early Childhood Learning Center located at Blue Ridge Elementary. The message here is that ever so slowly, the policy at city hall is slowly turning toward being a more user friendly city -- one that recognizes the needs of residents. To be sure, there is still plenty of room for improvement. City Hall needs to become more forthcoming and inclusive in its decision making process. The penchant for hiring out of town experts to tell us what to do must be throttled back. The giveaway of tax dollars in the form of tax abatements and TIFS without the promise of a return on our investments (clawbacks) must cease. There is reason to be hopeful for our future in Raytown. By focusing our efforts on plans that offer real hope over false hope, Raytown will grow and prosper.