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New questions develop for OKCPS Board after TIF presentation

Brett Dickerson / Red Dirt Report
The Oklahoma City Public Schools Board of Education held a retreat to deal informally with several matters including how to respond to new TIF proposals in Oklahoma City that would divert funds from the district.
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OKLAHOMA CITY – Rather than the Oklahoma City school board having questions answered about TIFs at their retreat, a presentation by a local realtor raised even more questions.

Cathy O’Connor, key architect of two new proposed TIFs that would divert tax money away from schools, was not present.

Realtor Bart Binning came to the Oklahoma City Public Schools (OKCPS) Board of Education retreat on Tuesday night, Feb. 10, to explain the basics of tax increment finance districts, or TIFs.

In his presentation, he explained how TIFs are established to allow a city to lure private investment into a particular area with money that normally would go to tax-receiving entities like schools and public libraries. Those entities are called “taxing jurisdictions”.

The promise of the concept is that when the TIF time limit runs out, increased taxes from the new development in the area will pay off to those entities over the long-term.

Board members get short course on TIFs

At the Board Retreat members present were engaged and eager to find out more about TIFs from Binning.

There were several points that caught the most attention from board members and created a whole new set of questions.

He said that TIFs can be enacted by cities now without the taxing jurisdictions (like schools) being able to stop them since new laws were passed by the Oklahoma Legislature in recent years. In previous times a TIF idea could be successfully opposed by taxing jurisdictions if they concluded that a TIF would be too harmful.

This left the obvious question about what OKCPS could actually do to respond to the ideas for new TIFs that would have an effect on their finances.

Binning also pointed out that since the new development in the proposed new TIFs could result in much more population in an area that currently has very little, a new school would almost be a necessity.

And he suggested that the OKCPS board might be able to negotiate with the TIF review committees for some of the TIF earnings to come back to the district for developing and running the new school.

Binning affirmed that the Core to Shore TIF that would reach far Southward from downtown would certainly not be developed without TIF money as an incentive since the whole area has been under industrial use almost since statehood and would require expensive clean-up.

However, one surprising criticism that he leveled was about development that would occur anyway with or without subsidies.

Hinting at one developer’s request for millions in new TIF money, Binning said, “I don’t think that it’s fair for a project that is already going to occur to end up getting public subsidies.”

At the end of the briefing by Binning, Board Chair Lynne Hardin was blunt. “We have all been very behind the curve in my opinion,” she said.

Member Bob Hammack said, “As the saying goes, the devil is in the details. That’s where my questions are.”

Since so many new issues were raised by the discussion, Red Dirt Report asked Superintendent Robert Neu what he planned to do next to dig deeper into the details of the TIF plans and their response. His answer was open-ended. “Certainly we are going to learn as much as we can about TIFs,” he said.

Board members’ response

The next day Red Dirt Report contacted several board members to get their responses to the TIF explanation.

Both Justin Ellis and Bob Hammack seemed to be sympathetic with the overall goals of urban development, especially in blighted areas of Oklahoma City. They both expressed appreciation of the City Council working to grow the city.

Hammack and Ellis were both curious to hear more about the need to build a new school eventually once the Core to Shore area is developed with more residences and saw a need to approach the TIF committees with OKCPS concerns about how to pay for that new school.

Hammack was incensed that the Oklahoma Legislature has taken away the ability of taxing jurisdictions to stop a TIF if a city decides to enact it.

About the legislature that passed laws barring taxing jurisdictions from stopping a TIF, he said, “It’s always disheartening and troubling trying to operate a school district under the business acumen of the 49th ranked legislature in America.”

Ellis sees public education as under being under attack from a number of directions. He said, “Everybody’s dumping on education right now.”

When he was asked if he thought OKCPS was in a corner with the TIF situation, he agreed and went further. “We are in a corner without a fighter,” he said.

Laura Massenat said in a written response, that after hearing this presentation, “I want numbers showing [the] economic impact of new downtown TIF[s].”

Obvious by her absence

However, inexplicably missing from the discussion Tuesday was the principal architect of the two newly proposed TIFs that would extend out new caps on taxes to those recipients like OKCPS.

The proposal of these two new TIFs was the occasion for the OKCPS board wanting to know more about TIFs in the first place.

Cathy O’Connor, President and CEO of The Alliance for Economic Development for Oklahoma City, gave a presentation in the January 27th City Council where she led the council to believe that she was in extensive discussions with OKCPS.

In that meeting, after questions from Councilman Ed Shadid about the OKCPS views on the loss of tax money, O’Connor told the Council members that OKCPS “...were very supportive when we met with them just about a week ago.”

When pressed a considerable time later in the presentation by Councilman Pete White about her contacts with all of those entities that will be affected, and especially OKCPS, O’Connor said, “I can assure you that we talk to the school district a great deal.”

But, school board members contacted by Red Dirt Report continued to claim up through Tuesday, Feb. 10 that they had not been contacted, had not had any meetings with O’Connor or with their own staff about the proposed TIFs, and didn’t know who had.

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Brett Dickerson

Brett Dickerson is an adjunct teacher teaching ESL (English as a Second Language) courses for...

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Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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