NLR: finagling in the dark | Arkansas Blog

Friday, December 12, 2008

NLR: finagling in the dark

Posted By on Fri, Dec 12, 2008 at 12:32 PM

NLR Commodore Pat Hays on Monday announced a public hearing Dec. 22 on a proposal to, as the D-G put it, "combine" three existing tax increment finance districts to divert school property taxes into a bond issue to build a parking deck.

If the mayor and city attorney can be believed in responses through an emissary to my FOI request, not a single scrap of paper yet in existence in city hall embodies the proposal on which there is to be a public hearing in 10 days. Neither the mayor nor city attorney have had time to call me on this issue in a week of trying. Even their assistants are too busy to be of all-day assistance to my request to inspect public information. The public must schedule its visits around their busy schedules, I'm told, though the state FOI law allows no such obstacles to inspection of records not in active use.

Here's the problem as I see it: The  Constitution says explicitly, twice, thatTIF districts may only be set up to finance improvements WITHIN the districts. And TIF districts must consist of contiguous land according to a 2005 statute. As best we can tell so far, Cmdr. Hays wants to round up school taxes from three non-contiguous TIF districts to build a parking deck in one district that is not within the boundaries of the other districts. I don't think they can do this. They could create a new, larger TIF district encompassing all this land. But, if they did that proess anew, they'd have to create the district with property tax values that reflect current value of The Enclave apartments and the Argenta Place mixed-use development. The old districts were established before those projects were completed and that's the point at which values were frozen for existing tax recipients. Taxes from increases in value can then go to building infrastructure. Using the new values would reduce dramatically the amount of school taxes that Hays could pilfer to help a hotel developer. He likely wouldn't have enough to build the parking deck.

Perhaps I'm wrong on all this. I've tried to get countervailing explanation from NLR officials, but the phone just doesn't ring. I hope the NLR School Board is ready with some good questions Dec. 22 on this latest raid on their existing tax base.

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