‘Favors’ being handed out, a resident alleges
ecent tax deferments applied for by a few downtown Parkville business owners are the latest steps in a pattern of preferential treatment by city officials, some Parkville residents allege.
Although the board of aldermen is set to take up the deferment issue at its regularly scheduled meeting Tuesday, Sept. 1 after deadline for this story, some residents are arguing that work being completed by downtown business owners could be a sign they’ve been promised the abatements for which they have applied.
Some residents also argue the abatements are further proof of a pattern by city hall staff and elected officials who have a pre-determined vision of the city’s future with no room for discussion or input from anyone outside of their small circle.
Elaine Kellerman is one such Parkville resident. She said a recent email she sent to city officials illustrates her concerns about how Parkville officials are implementing a Missouri program in which business owners in blighted areas are incentivized to make improvements to their businesses by waiving taxes on the changes for years. The board of aldermen is slated to vote on some tax abatement applications during their Tuesday night meeting.
However, Kellerman states in her email that she has reservations about some of those in line to receive the incentives, including one downtown business owner who also is a prominent Parkville builder, Brian Mertz. He is the owner of Parkville Development, the builder of Creekside, a more-than-350-acre residential, light industrial and retail area currently under construction near Interstate 435 and Missouri 45 in Parkville. Mertz already has been approved for more than $350 million in tax breaks as an incentive to create Creekside. Some who have opposed the way the city is managing the development balk at the breaks, which include a litany of alphabet soup-style incentives (Neighborhood Improvement Districts, also known as NIDs, Community Improvement Districts, CIDs, and Tax Increment Financing, TIFs).
The incentives also include a one percent sales tax the city will collect then hand over to Mertz for 40 years. Some Parkville homeowners have argued they are concerned if buildings in the development do not sell, taxpayers will end up paying for a failed development.
Many experts, including economists and the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy state such incentives are “a costly drag on the nation” and “counterproductive.”
The board of aldermen recently declared downtown Parkville “blighted,” a necessary pre-cursor to qualifying for the Missouri 353 Tax Abatement program, which is managed by the Missouri Economic Development Council. The board’s packet of information for the Tuesday meeting states that in 2014, city officials adopted the Vision Downtown Parkville Plan, which laid the groundwork for tax incentive programs to encourage downtown development.
“A number of downtown buildings have not been properly maintained or altered in a manner that does not improve the appearance or the image of Parkville,” the packet states. “In some cases, alteration is not consistent with the overall design of the structure itself.”
The document continues that officials see “the need for a comprehensive, coordinated approach to investments.”
The downtown businesses that have applied for the latest incentives, 353s, are in the 100 block of Main Street and so far, the incentive also is being sought by Mike Emmick and Ryan O’Laughlin, other building owners in that block.
Kellerman said it is as if city officials are using the enhancement program to reward a few-many of whom were financial contributors to Mayor Nan Johnston’s successful bid for re-election this past spring.
“There’s a handful of them and she’s the ring-leader,” Kellerman said. “It absolutely shouldn’t be that way.”
Kellerman said she has tried to express her reservations to her aldermen in ward one, Tina Welch and Philip Wassmer, but felt like she “was speaking to a brick wall.” She asked, “How do we get heard?”
Parkville resident Brett Krause said he agrees that the pattern is disturbing.
“Once again, Nan and the city are passing out favors to their tribe, irrespective of whether it’s good for the city or not,” he said. “It’s very disappointing but kind of what we’ve come to expect,” he said.
Kellerman’s email states she wants input before aldermen vote on whether to grant tax abatements to several downtown business owners at the board’s Tuesday night meeting in which the issue is listed on the board of aldermen’s agenda.
“They had better bring up my testimony,” she said, adding that the meeting includes a public hearing, which many have been hesitant to attend due to COVID-19 concerns.
But Krause said there is a method to his voiced concerns.
“I’m not going to get into a big war with them,” he said. “That doesn’t help anybody.” Krause said he does plan to be patient.
“People (many residents) just aren’t focused on everything that’s going on, but at some time all that will start to change,” he said, adding that speaking out is his way of being heard for now. He said, “Otherwise, I wouldn’t be doing this.”