Archive for Thursday, September 21, 2000

Lingle urges Oz to come clean

September 21, 2000

Johnson County Commissioner Johnna Lingle said she recently told Oz Entertainment Co. CEO Robert Kory he needed to be more forthright if he wants the commission to approve his company's plan to redevelop the Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant.

Oz hopes to build an $861 million Wonderful World of Oz Theme Park at Sunflower. Oz has negotiated draft agreements with state and federal agencies that would transfer Sunflower land to the company for its commitment to cleanup an estimated $45 million worth of contamination.

Before the transfer can occur, the Johnson County Commission and the Kansas Development Finance Authority must approve Oz's redevelopment agreement for the plant.

"Robert Kory called to ask what they needed to do (to gain the commission's approval)," Lingle said. "I told him to put all the cards on the table. Don't continue to make my fellow commissioners have to dig to get answers."

Oz can demonstrate its new attitude to the commission soon, Lingle said. The commission will have a work session with Oz representatives on the company's proposal at 9:30 Monday in the Johnson County Administration Building in Olathe.

The latest example of Oz forcing the commission to dig for answers was the company's admission about its planned uses of sales taxes collected at the theme park, Lingle said. Under questioning Commissioner Doug Wood Aug. 31, Oz financial advisor Ken Becker said sales taxes revenue not needed to pay off state issued sales tax revenue bonds could be used to retire privately placed bonds that will finance the theme park's construction.

Commissioner Wood and George Gross, two of the commissioners once considered friendly to Oz, have expressed serious reservations about that use of sales tax revenue.

The two commissioners have noted the commission can limit the use of sales tax revenue in the redevelopment agreement.

Last Thursday, county legal counselor Don Jarrett told commissioners they can also limit Oz's use of tax increment financing bond funds in the redevelopment agreement.

By state statute, counties do not have the authority to grant TIFs, which are meant to finance public improvements, Jarrett told the commissioners. However, a bill the Kansas Legislature passed in 1998 allows the use of TIFs at Sunflower for projects of statewide and local importance.

The county must first approve a redevelopment agreement for Sunflower, and Jarrrett said in doing so the commission could define what uses Oz can make of TIF bonds.

Lingle admitted she has been against TIF financing for the Oz project from the start. Still, she said some of Oz's proposed uses of TIF bond funds don't seem meet the public improvement definition.

"Landscaping for example," she said. "I don't consider that a public infrastructure improvement."

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