Showing their support for a city, county and school partnership, members of the Lawrence school board voted 5-1 Monday to "not protest" the city's proposal to use tax increment financing (TIF) to help fund a building project in the 900 block of New Hampshire Street.
Under the proposal, the city would use new property and sales taxes generated by the project to pay 20-year bond costs for "public improvements" within the proposed Downtown 2000 project, such as a new parking garage.
"Your budget won't change," Assistant Supt. Craig Fiegel told board members. "You might see a minimal difference on your mill levy, but you would never notice it. You're not giving up any taxes."
The project, which would incorporate the parking garage, retail, office and residential space, is expected to cost $17 million; $8 million would be funded by the city and the remaining $9 million would come from private sources, including the taxes that the school district would forgo.
The school district would give up about $57,000 a year in new tax revenue, based on the current mill rate of 48 mills, Fiegel said.
"It's really a way of making the project pay for itself, and as a school district to help pay for the community," he said.
Board member James Hilliard, the lone voice of dissension, questioned why the Lawrence schools should get involved in making a decision either way.
"We're not in the development business; we're in the education business," he said. "I think we need to let developers do what they need to do with their money."
Hilliard said he believed that with or without school board support, the project would come to fruition.
"If we veto the TIF, we don't stop the project," he said. "I have no doubt in my mind that it will go on."
Board president Maley Wilkins said she understood Hilliard's concern but supported the trend for governmental agencies to work together.
"All three entities (city, county, schools) have said we'll work for the greater good rather than on our own sandbox," she said. "This is in the spirit of that."
Wilkins noted that the county commission voted not to protest the city's plans.
"This is the wrong time to fail to cooperate," board member Austin Turney said.
Board member Kerry Altenbernd, while voting with the majority, made it clear that he didn't want the vote to set a precedent in dealing with the City of Lawrence or other entities that need financing.
"This exceeds the historic role of the school board," he said. "We're stepping into new ground. My vote is in the spirit of cooperation. We are not setting a precedent here."
Board member Leni Salkind was out of town on school business and did not attend Monday's meeting.
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