The Reverend Kevass Harding, a member of the board of USD 259, the Wichita public school district, is also a real estate developer (New life for Ken-Mar Shopping Center: Harding plans to revitalize 13th Street mall, March 14, 2008 Wichita Business Journal).
The problem is that Harding plans to ask the taxpayers of the City of Wichita to pay for part of his development. Not outright, but through a scheme known as tax increment financing, or TIF. Through this scheme, property taxes that the development pays — taxes that would normally be used to fund general city, county, and school district operations — would instead be rebated to Harding and his team of developers. Well, not directly to Harding’s company, but the increased taxes the development will pay will be used to repay bonds that paid for things that benefited the development.
This is bad enough. But Harding, as member of the school board, must know that the effect of the TIF district is that less money will flow to USD 259. As the school board firmly believes that taxpayers never send enough tax money to USD 259, I wonder how board members will react to one of their own seeking to avoid paying property taxes. (Well, not really avoiding paying property taxes, but asking that the taxes he pays directly benefit himself, rather than the city, county, and school district.)
It may turn out, however, that we’ll never know how Harding’s colleagues on the school board feel about this. As explained in Reverend Kevass Harding and His Wichita TIF District, the board of USD 259 doesn’t have to approve the Reverend’s request. All they have to do is nothing, and the request will pass. This is a problem, too.
I’ve sent these questions several times to two email addresses for Reverend Harding. I’ve called and left telephone messages at the number listed on his USD 259 contact page, and at his church, too. He hasn’t responded.
Reverend Harding, if you do decide to answer these questions, I will gladly post your responses. You can contact me here
1. Why is there a financing shortfall for this project that makes it necessary to seek the TIF district financing?
2. The TIF district financing provides your company with the benefit that the property taxes that would otherwise go to various governmental entities would instead be redirected back to your project. Specifically, the funds would be used, according to City of Wichita documents, to pay for site acquisition costs. Would you please comment on the equity of your firm having its site acquisition costs paid for by the public, when most real estate development companies in Wichita do not have this privilege?
3. As a member of the Wichita public school district board, you have voted to increase taxes and are on record as supporting a bond issue that would further increase taxes. Have you calculated how much tax revenue the Wichita school district would forgo if your TIF district request is approved?
4. Please comment on the apparent hypocrisy of your company seeking to avoid paying the property taxes that you, in your role as school board member, demand others pay.