Supervisors Continue Path Towards TIF

North Mahaska Superintendent (standing) Angela Livezey demonstrates what TIF would do to property tax in the North Mahaska School District.

North Mahaska Superintendent (standing) Angela Livezey demonstrates what TIF would do to property tax in the North Mahaska School District.

North Mahaska School Expresses Concern

Oskaloosa, Iowa – The Mahaska County Board of Supervisor met Monday morning when they held a public hearing in regards to a potential Tax Increment Financing (TIF) plan for the Prairie Wind Urban Renewal Area.

North Mahaska Schools Superintendent Angela Livezey spoke during the public comment portion of the public hearing.

Livezey sat down to share how the tax increment financing would impact the North Mahaska School District.

“For the past year and a half, the North Mahaska Schools has been planning for the future of our students and our kids in Mahaska County, and I trust that as Supervisors you always have the best interest of Mahaska County at heart. Sometimes tough decisions come along, and you have to make those tough decisions, even though they’re not popular. I’m here today to really propose a win-win for Mahaska County and to put kids first,” said Livezey to the Mahaska County Board of Supervisors.

Livezey said that students in Mahaska County need to be college and career ready, she then outlined the partnerships with community colleges like Indian Hills, and concurrent onsite classes that give students college credit as well as credit towards their high school diploma. Livezey said the district has spent over $200,000 with Indian Hills to help students be college and career ready. “That means four teachers for us that we could employ if we were not putting that money out to Indian Hill College to help prepare those students.”

Livezey also highlighted the plan the district had in place to increase safety at the district, which included a camera system and secured door entrances. Livezey held aloft a large amount of keys showcasing the importance of a key fob door lock system in order to better control access and prevent extra keys from being made.

Other projects proposed by the North Mahaska School District was climate control, which would allow for use of the building during the summer months for student learning programs. Climate control could also help the building last longer by keeping extra humidity out of the structure.

Livezey said that her district has worked with the Iowa School Board Association to help them better understand how TIF could impact the North Mahaska School District financially.

Livezey had prepared a visual demonstration for the Supervisors that helped to demonstrate what the tax rate looks like without TIF, what the tax rate looks like with TIF, what the tax rate was proposed to drop to, and “we were proposing to meet the needs of our students and our needs of our building when that tax rate dropped.”

Livezey said that the current tax rate is $12.69 per $1000 of assessed value, and without the TIF, the tax rate is proposed to drop to $10.90 per $1000 of assessed value.

“So when our tax rate dropped like this, that’s when we were thinking about coming in, asking our taxpayers for a GEO Bond, or a general obligation bond, and telling our taxpayers we can keep your tax rate just about the same, or we can even make it a little lower, and we can do all these things for kids,” explained Livezey. “Increased safety and security, HVAC for climate controlled building.”

Livezey said that the district has been planning to bring the bond issue before the voters once their internal planning was completed.

If the county supervisors were to implement the TIF plan, the tax rate for the North Mahaska School District would drop some, to $12.45 for $1000 of assessed value.

Livesey then pointed out how the overall tax rate would then increase to $14.24 for $1000 of assessed value if the school board were to approach the taxpayers for the GEO Bond.

In her closing comments, Livezey asked the Supervisors to “put kids first, and to understand from that balcony view, what TIF means to North Mahaska School District.”

Mahaska County Supervisors asked Livezey, “It’s my understanding  school boards can only get so much money regardless of property taxes versus state aid. So, let’s just say you don’t get the TIF money, let’s just say if you do get the TIF money, is the state aid going to decrease?”

“If we don’t get the TIF money, the TIF money would be diverted to the county as far as what you’re proposing in the urban renewal plan,” said Livezey. “There’s been a misconception about that state aid. We do get state aid back for all of our students, but what would happen is increased assessed value with implementation of the TIF, would be diverting the funds over to the county roads. So truly, this visual here, is how our district would be impacted. It makes it all that much harder to go to our taxpayers and ask them to support increased safety, security, increased opportunity for college and career readiness, as well as increased opportunities for students by having a climate controlled environment.”

One North Mahaska area resident asked the Supervisors why the “kids had to suffer” for the TIF plan being proposed by the Supervisors. ‘We’ve got to protect our kids one way or another.”

Leslie Van Wyk was the next to speak in the public comment section of the hearing. Van Wyk said her and her husband chose to move to New Sharon because of the school. “Like 30% of New Sharon, I have children under 18, two of whom are enrolled in North Mahaska currently. Our school needs updating.”

“We also need to invest in programs that teach them valuable life and work skills. What New Sharon doesn’t need is further financial burden, through TIF and then a General Obligation Bond,” said Van Wyk. “New Sharon proudly has taken care of its own, but we can’t afford to take care of New Sharon, North Mahaska, and the county roads. It is unfair and frankly inappropriate to tax 538 households and spend that money elsewhere without any direct benefit coming back to the households you are taxing.”

“We are a small community, but I can promise that we are a loud community and if you go forward with this, without any direct benefit coming back to our households, you will hear us every single step of the way, because we take care of our children, we are proud and we want to invest in their future and their safety,” said Van Wyk in closing to the Supervisors.

Carrie Kral who has children who attend North Mahaska, and is the president of the PTO, also stepped forward to have her voice heard by the Supervisors. “It’s so heartbreaking to see these funds, (Kral stops to compose herself), not go to these kids.”

Nick Nelson spoke next. His wife teaches at North Mahaska, and he has two children that attend North Mahaska Schools. “I want to see them kept safe. I love the school district, everything about it.”

“Thank you guys [Supervisors] for listening,” said Nelson.

Livezey again reiterated that her position is not adversarial, “I’m confident that we can come up with a win-win for Mahaska County.”

Groenendyk said, “Mike, can I answer some of your questions you had.”

“You asked the question, where do we get our road money from. We get our road money from the unincorporated area gets charged $3.10 against your assessed value for roads. That’s the maximum allowed by law. So that’s about 2 million dollars per year. That’s all we can tax. We get about three and a half plus the one penny, we get about 4 million, that’s 6 million dollars per year, we get to work with roads. This county,” said Groenendyk.

“I’ll give you an illustration. After this pipeline went through with all the truck traffic and heavy equipment, and now all this truck equipment for the windmills, the Lacey highway was not even on our 5 year plan 2 years ago. We just spent a little over 5 million dollars to do it today because that’s how much it went downhill with all the truck traffic. So we basically took out one whole year’s budget to do one road that wasn’t even on the plan 2 years ago,” added Groenendyk.

“Hey, I live by these windmills and I don’t see the impact on my roads,” said an audience member to Groenendyk.

“That’s what I said, that’s why we’re thinking about TIF’ing it, so we can fix those roads back up,” said Groenendyk.

“I don’t see the impact,” replied the audience member to Groenendyk. “It was bad for a little bit while they put these windmills in, but the roads are not a big factor right now.”

“They are a factor,” said Van Weelden. “Go north of Taintor. North of Taintor is, got beat pretty bad.”

“So you’re talking about replacing highway?” asked the audience member.

“Yes,” replied Van Weelden. “That’s got to be replaced. The one they are doing now past the rural water plant, there was a lot of traffic in there with the pipeline. When the pipeline went through a couple of years ago, it caused that, it’s a 40-year-old, understand it was 40-year-old highway, 38-year-old highway. Probably 7 inches thick at the most where it’s thickest and it pretty well, if some of you have ever driven it, you knew what it was like.”

“There are a lot of roads that need attention,” added Van Weelden. “Especially hard surface roads.”

“I’m sure there’s a compromise somewhere,” said the audience member.

‘I think there’s over 100 bridges tagged in Mahaska County right now. We’re getting farmsteads that can’t even get semi traffic in anymore because they got tagged bridges everywhere,” said Mahaska County Supervisor Steve Wanders. “So we have lots of issues. So, it’s just hard to have enough money to fix everything.”

“Everybody’s in the same boat. Everybody’s looking for money,” said Groenendyk.

Another audience member asked about the property tax money that will be generated by the pipeline, and reports it could be used for roads, Groenendyk disagreed saying “No.”

Van Weelden said those funds will flow into the county’s General Basic fund, which would lower general basic taxes, depending upon what it is. We don’t even know what that is yet. Early estimate was quite a bit of money, but how do we know, the state divides that all out and we still don’t know.”

“Yeah, the county does not have anything to do with that taxation. The state does all that formula,” said Groenendyk, who explained the money would end up in the General Fund. “It doesn’t go to Rural Basic.”

The Mahaska County Board of Supervisors, Willie Van Weelden, Mark Groenendyk, and Steve Wanders, voted unanimously to move forward with the initial steps of the Urban Renewal Area TIF plan.

“Something can be written into the plan for the school also,” added Van Weelden when asked what the steps in the process will be. “Depending upon how it’s written.”

“This is one step in the process of getting this setup,” added Van Weelden. “There’s time to work on this.”

“In other counties, a lot of the counties in the state that have done this, they have met very little opposition from their school district, because the impact, the impact here is, you were planning to do building and some things in here with that where other districts that probably wasn’t in their scope,” added Van Weelden. “The increased revenue to the school, really as a total, most of the time has been insignificant. From what I’m told by other supervisors in other counties. Because of the back-fill and how all that works.”

The Mahaska County Board of Supervisors once again stated the vote was just a first step, “and we will talk some more.”

The Public Hearing is scheduled for the first Supervisors meeting, October 1st at 9 am.

After the meeting, Oskaloosa News stopped by the Supervisors office for some points of clarification over the damage being caused by the wind turbines and the pipeline, but that in past meetings, the Board of Supervisors had signed off that all the repairs to the roads were completed, and everything was in order.

“Somewhat,” said Van Weelden.

“So why aren’t these entities paying for those repairs then, versus the taxpayers,” Oskaloosa News asked in response.

“We have been reimbursed money by these entities,” explained Van Weelden. “But some of the roads weren’t in good repair when they started.”

“We’d be hard pressed to prove that it came from their trucks, but when the road deteriorates that fast in 5 years, the extra traffic didn’t do them any favors, but how are you going to prove that to an entity that it was your vehicles that did it, when there is other people on the road also,” said Groenendyk.

“They have a formula they use and they go in before and they go in after and it’s a guestimate, and so you don’t get enough money to build a new road,” said Van Weelden who said you can’t blame the road failures all on the pipeline, but the roadway had just reached its end of life.

“Seven inches of concrete 40 years ago was enough, but not today with what runs the roads,” added Van Weelden.

When it comes to how much money the county received in settlement for damages to the roads, Van Weelden said, “I don’t know. I ain’t even going to say.”

Groenendyk said he believes the settlement had more to deal with when a large crane crossed the highway. “You can definitely see where the pads crushed the highway.”

“It’s more difficult on everyday traffic up and down a whole road, when the whole road starts to rock and pot out to say, it was definitely, said Groenendyk. “So you don’t get a one million or two million dollar settlement when you say and three other grain trucks running down the road the same day, how do you know it was my truck.”

With the millions of dollars in road work being planned, Oskaloosa News asked the Supervisors if they were having a second opinion besides the county engineers.

“I think when you went out and drive that road, it’s pretty obvious it had to be redone,” said Groenendyk.

“We can also drive around and look at them,” added Groenendyk. “And it’s pretty obvious on some of this stuff,”

“The school district is not losing as much money as they are portraying,” said Van Weelden. “That’s my beef with the school district today. What they are wanting to do, if we TIF those windmills, what they’re wanting to do they have to issue a bond for it anyway. So, we either issue bonds to build roads or they’re going to have to issue a bond to fix their school. So the taxpayers are going to pay either way. It’s just a matter that North Mahaska, that school district which is predominantly rural. The City of New Sharon has what, 38 million and the rest is rural. New Sharon itself doesn’t have a lot of [taxable] value.”

“It’s 28 million dollars,” Groenendyk said.

“So the farmers are still paying for it,” added Van Weelden. “They’re going to pay for it either way.”

“They’re paying 75% of the bill either way,” added Groenendyk.

“So they’ll [North Mahaska] lose out on their PPL money. That comes off property tax,” added Van Weelden. “I don’t agree with some of her [Livezey] numbers on there, because the state reimburses based upon per-student, not on valuations. We’ve had two different people explain that to Angela, and she’s not buying what we’re telling her.”

“This is the county you’re talking to Ken. We love the county, we know better than that one,” said Groenendyk to this reporter, when I said I would look for an outside word on the issue.

“You got all these love letters about the county; we can do no right, so I know what’s coming,” Groenendyk told this reporter.

“How much does Oskaloosa give their TIF money to Oskaloosa School District?” asked Groenendyk of this reporter.

“I’m not here to pick a fight; I’m here to find out facts. That’s what my job is,” this reporter said in response to Groenendyk’s comments.

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Posted by on Sep 7 2018. Filed under Local News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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