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Kansas City Council Discusses Proposal To Scale Back Tax Breaks For Developers

Rendering courtesy of BNIM
Projects that receive tax abatements, like the failed proposal to build a new BNIM headquarters in the Crossroads have been at the center of debates about how much the city should help developers by giving tax breaks.

Over the last year, the debate over how much of a tax break the city should give developers for local projects has been heated. 

On Wednesday, the Kansas City Council for the first time heard public comment on an ordinance to reform tax incentive development policy that's been in the works for months. 

The proposal, which has seven sponsors, would cap tax abatements the city can give a developer at 75 percent. Currently the city can abate 100 percent of the project.

Councilman Quinton Lucas is the lead sponsor of the ordinance, which was first filed in May. He opened the public discussion, which lasted more than two hours, by acknowledging that the current guidelines are ineffective. 

“We’ve failed in some ways the petitioner groups, we’ve failed our public institutions, we’ve failed our business community,” Lucas said.

He says the failure of the BNIM project made him realize changes needed to be made for the city to be more accountable to the public, and to prevent future projects from being halted by similar petitions or referendums. 

Several people gave testimony in support of the ordinance, and many praised Lucas' efforts to collaborate with different stakeholders, including public schools, residents of taxing districts and developers. 

Lucas’ plan makes exceptions for LEED-certified projects, historic preservation and in projects in economically-disadvantaged parts of the city.

Several people who commented, however, don’t think there should be any exceptions. Others preferred the cap for abatements be even more restrictive, at 50 percent. 

Councilman Scott Taylor, who is the chairman of the Planning, Zoning and Economic Development Committee, says the current council is looking at projects with a lot more scrutiny now — especially compared to previous councils.  

"I think there's a consensus that we want to do something, but we want to do it right and in an organized manner," he said.

He says Kansas City is on a roll, and this proposal aims to continue that growth. 

Lisa Rodriguez is a reporter for KCUR 89.3 Connect with her on Twitter @larodrig

Slow news days are a thing of the past. As KCUR’s news director, I want to cut through the noise, provide context to the headlines, and give you news you can use in your daily life – information that will empower you to make informed decisions about your neighborhood, your city and the region. Email me at lisa@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @larodrig.
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