SHREWSBURY, Mo. (KMOX) — Mayor Felicity Buckley is confident her town’s aldermen will vote, with a two-thirds majority, to approve tax breaks for Walmart, thereby nullifying a county commission’s rejection of the incentives.
She said she can’t speak definitively for board members, but thinks “they’ve made their position known.”
$15 million of incentives are part of the package — including both tax increment financing (TIF) and an additional sales tax on purchases at the store through either a community improvement district (CID) or transportation development district (TDD). Developer G.J. Grewe cites, among other reasons, the “challenging topography” of the site as a reason why the subsidy is necessary.
A St. Louis County TIF commission voted 9-to-3 on Wednesday night to reject that notion. Affton school board members, with a budget dipping deeper-and-deeper into the red, argued that the district could not stomach tax breaks which would wind up re-directing Walmart property taxes away from the district and back to developers.
But Mayor Buckley pointed out, in a phone interview Thursday with KMOX News, that “the good thing about the project means that the taxes that they’re getting right now will be frozen instead of continuing to decline, as they have been over the years.”
Her fear is that without the big-box retailer’s presence, the Watson Rd. retail corridor will continue to deteriorate.
“It isn’t fair that people living in the Webster School District are deciding the fate of people living in the Affton school district,” resident Eileen Dorsey declared at Wednesday’s TIF hearing.
“Interestingly enough, five out of our six aldermen live in the Affton school district,” Mayor Buckley responded. “They’ve actually been very sensitive about it.”
TO TIF OR NOT TO TIF
Critics contend that developers have cultivated an environment in which they simply refuse to build unless given tax breaks, knowing that there’s always an adjacent municipality willing to open the checkbook. A common complaint is that incentives are simply used to lure a retailer to move up the road to a neighbor.
A study by the East-West Gateway Council of Governments, released in January 2011, found that over the last two decades the St. Louis region has spent just shy of $6 billion on TIF incentives, 80-percent of that for retail, with little-to-no actual economic growth as a result.
Buckley vehemently disagrees. Shrewsbury’s proposed Walmart, she said, is a new location, not a re-location. She draws a difference between using incentives for new development, versus re-development. This project involves razing and rebuilding the struggling Kenrick Plaza strip mall.
Already, changes in state law have tipped the balance of power on TIF commissions to county appointments, which have accordingly voted down almost all recent retail requests for subsidy. The latest case was in Ellisville, although aldermen there later voted to override the commission. State legislators are floating the idea of stripping away the local decision-making, giving St. Louis County exclusive authority.
Buckley said, if that’s the case, they might as well eliminate tax incentives altogether.
“If you’re going to have TIF, then it’s most appropriately used at the municipal level,” she said, “because that’s the level at which the most people are really heard. Bigger government has a harder time hearing the people.”
For the fifth year in a row, Shrewsbury government is operating at a deficit.
Buckley blames westward sprawl, with residents packing-up and shipping-out for newer suburbs and taking their wealth with them. That’s left inner-ring suburbs with aging infrastructure and declining revenue. Buckley believes attracting retail is her best bet for a balanced budget.
She cited Brentwood and Maplewood’s retail corridors, built in part with TIF, as retail revitalization success stories.
“It’s been a very good tool for many communities.”
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