From the mailbag | Arkansas Blog

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

From the mailbag

Posted By on Wed, Apr 22, 2009 at 6:36 AM

I was e-lerted overnight that the stealth redevelopment district legislation that whipped through the recent session unnoticed might have been intended to cut the legs from under the North Little Rock School District's legal challenge of the gerrymandered tax district created by Mayor Pat Hays. (That's the one in which he wants to steal school tax dollars from a completed apartment complex to build a parking deck for private hotel developers.)

I'll check further.

UPDATE: I spoke with Rep. Darrin Williams, who sponsored the legislation. It has North Little Rock roots (though Williams is in Little Rock, he lives in a Senate district that includes North Little Rock and he's giving some thought to seeking the seat in 2010).

Williams said the bill was to extend the financing window for TIF districts that have been created, but haven't been able to get underway because of a difficult financial and economic market, specifically a mixed-use development district proposed for the Baring Cross neighborhood. (Rockwater Village, the concept of Jim Jackson and Lisa Ferrell.) He said a Jefferson County TIF district, created but not put in motion, also was interested in extending the bond repayment period from 25 to 40 years.

"The districts are in existence and the time is running. But if they're five years in before they get started, they'll only have 20 years to pay the money back."

Williams said he'd inquired to be sure the "education community" didn't object to the legislative change and that he was assured this legislation would not apply to the downtown redevelopment district that is subject of the NLR School District lawsuit. "I'd be very disappointed if that was the case. That was never part of what we talked about."

OK, then. Though I think a discussion of a 40-year payout on these bonds still might have been in order, no matter what project stands to benefit. This constructively puts new development district property value increases off-limits to school, city and county property taxes forever. And, in many cases, the supposed trickle-down impact of such developments on other local revenues is negligible, if not a negative in terms of new infrastructure demands without resulting revenue flow.

Also, re my characterization of "stealth": Records show it was filed the day before filing deadline, among almost 400 that poured in the last two days. But it wasn't brought up in committee until the end of the session. Then it moved quickly, in and out in eight days. The title was no red flag: "An act concerning bonds of redevelopment districts." That's how business gets done at the ledge.

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