Thank you to John Todd for this excellent material.
Testimony in Opposition to the County’s use of Eminent Domain for the Arena Project.
My name is John Todd. I am a real estate broker and developer and I come before you in opposition to the County’s proposed use of eminent domain for the downtown arena footprint.
On August 25, 2004 and prior to the arena vote in November of that year, I presented testimony before this Commission questioning the wisdom of building a downtown arena without knowing the exact location of the parcel(s) of land the project would be located on. I asked the questions, does the Commission know the exact location of the arena project? Is the needed land for sale? Are the property owners willing to selling their land? And, most importantly, has the County secured a contract option to purchase the needed land with an exact purchase price? I believed then and now that the taxpaying public needed to know the answers to those questions before making a decision on a $184.5 million dollar project in the voting booth. From what I have been reading in the news recently, it seems apparent to me now that County officials failed in their “due diligence” responsibility to the citizens of this county by not securing the land for the arena in advance, and should now be willing to authorize another “non-binding” or perhaps a “binding” and final public vote on the arena project.
There is precedence for another vote since a “non-binding” no vote in 1992 was ignored by local officials, and perhaps a third and perhaps this time a “binding” vote could be used to settle this matter for good, with the express stipulation that any sales tax money collected for the arena to date be used to reduce property taxes in the county through a reduced mil levy over the next 2 or 3 years. As you will recall, the fear of higher property taxes was the primary argument proponents for the arena used in securing their thin 48% to 52% yes vote in 2004. Perhaps the prospect of property tax reduction would appeal to the voters. And another vote on an arena could give the county commission an opportunity to avoid the confrontational use of their eminent domain power to involuntarily strip 22 property owners of their land and in some cases businesses.
I oppose the County’s use of their eminent domain power to correct the due diligence responsibilities to the citizens of Sedgwick County they missed when they failed to secure the arena footprint land in advance of any public vote for funding on the project.
Secure private property rights are the bedrock for all of our other rights. Eminent domain abuse damages people’s faith in their own government, and people who are not secure in their own possessions cannot plan for their own future. A healthy economy is best achieved when individuals are free to use their own resources as they see fit. When government decides how the individual uses his property, the resultant system works poorly because it necessitates the use of coercion. The protection of private property rights is therefore essential to a healthy economy.
Nobel Prize winning economists Milton Friedman says, “In an economically free society, the fundamental function of government is the protection of private property and the provision of a stable infrastructure for a voluntary exchange system. When a government fails to protect private property, takes property itself without full compensation, or establishes restrictions (and follows policies) that limit voluntary exchange, it violates the economic freedom of its citizens.”