With revenues dwindling, budget cuts looming and renovation and construction needs mounting, the Lawrence school district is being asked to endorse a tax rebate that could save a downtown property owner hundreds of thousands of dollars in property taxes.
Consider it a matter of financial addition by subtraction.
“The district doesn’t lose anything,” said Shannon Kimball, a member of the Lawrence school board. “And if this building is improved and put to good use, it will increase our budget in the long run.”
Kimball and her board colleagues will be asked today to sign off on a request from Consolidated Properties to approve a 10-year rebate program for an anticipated increase in property taxes for one of the company’s properties: the Masonic Temple, 1001 Mass.
The downtown property, a windowless Egyptian Revival meeting hall listed as a landmark on the National Register of Historic Places, is slated for upgrades estimated to cost at least $800,000, all so Maceli’s can expand its catering operation and accommodate more wedding receptions and other events downtown.
But Consolidated Properties maintains it wouldn’t be able to do the project, and make it work for Maceli’s, without a tax incentive offered under the Neighborhood Revitalization Act: Consolidated Properties would continue to pay the full amount of property taxes it currently pays on the building but then get a break on the amount that would be paid on the improvements.
Paul Werner, an architect working on the project, figures that Consolidated Properties would save about $330,000 in taxes during the coming decade, money that would allow the company to charge Maceli’s a correspondingly lower rent.
Once the decade passes, the rebates — starting at 95 percent in year one and declining to 50 percent in year 10 — would be gone, leaving Consolidated Properties to pay the full tax bill on the entire building and all its improvements.
And by the time another five years had passed, according to an analysis conducted by a specialist at City Hall, the school district could expect to have received nearly $60,000 on top of and above the ongoing payments on the building’s current tax bill.
Translation: The district comes out $60,000 ahead, without having spent a dime to help the building get new life.
“It can only have positive benefits for the school system in the long run, because we don’t have to give up anything and, in return, in the long run we will benefit,” said Kimball, who reviewed the project’s financials earlier this month as a member of the city’s Public Incentives Review Committee. “If this creates additional jobs and brings additional students to Lawrence, those are great benefits for us.”
Lawrence and Douglas County commissioners also have approved the plan, confident that any dollars they spend now, such as to help Consolidated Properties install fire-suppression sprinklers in the building, would come back in the form of higher tax revenues and other ancillary benefits later.
The school district, meanwhile, can’t really bank on many additional dollars as a direct result of the project. The bulk of the district’s property-tax revenues are sent to the state, which in turn distributes money back to districts by following a finance formula based on enrollment.
The district, therefore, gets most of its money based on how many students it has, not by how valuable particular properties are.
But the district does assess taxes to finance capital improvements — such as replacing school roofs, rebuilding parking lots, buying computers and other items of technology — and those tax revenues can rise as the values of properties in the district climb. There’s where the bulk of the district’s projected $58,505 increase in revenues would come from.
The Masonic Temple, empty for nearly eight years now, will be slated for its overhaul: installation of new heating and air-conditioning systems, new wiring, new plumbing and an elevator, plus upgrades to the mezzanine to permit table seating. The building’s overall capacity would be 499.
Work is expected to begin in the middle of November and be finished in March, to be ready for the wedding season.
None of it would be possible with the provisions of the Neighborhood Revitalization Act, Werner said.
“This project needs the incentives or it wouldn’t be getting done,” he said.