Archive for Thursday, December 13, 2007

School district won’t help pay for traffic light

December 13, 2007

Eight months after a traffic light was installed at Commerce Drive and Lexington Avenue, the De Soto City Council is restarting efforts to form a benefit district to pay for it.

From the start, the De Soto City Council has assumed a benefit district would be formed to pay for the $180,000 signal with the city paying 55 percent of that cost.

But last Thursday as the council considered the final step in the creation of the benefit district, an appeal came from De Soto USD 232 operations director Jack Deyoe to eliminate the school district's $15,000 assessment.

During a public hearing on the benefit district, Deyoe argued that as a matter of policy the school district shouldn't be asked to pay for infrastructure upgrades that weren't contiguous to the property of schools.

"It's not the dollar amount; it's the policy," he said. "You don't tax a government like a business."

The district willingly pays for improvements to its side of the street needed when it constructs a new building, Deyoe said. The objection is being included in benefit districts or assessed excise taxes, he said.

What made benefit district and excise tax assessment more irksome was the city's granting of tax abatements to local industries, some of which increased the need for the signal, Deyoe said.

Citing a quote from Mayor Dave Anderson on the city's ability to recover lost property tax revenue from tax abatements through development fees and its street excise tax, Deyoe noted those revenue sources weren't available to the district, which made asking it to pay for additional infrastructure improvements needed because of the needs of the abated industries even more unfair.

The school district was another government charged with providing for the education of the children, Deyoe said. It fell to the city to provide for its residents infrastructure needs.

More specific to the traffic signal, the district was responsible for less traffic than it was in the past because the enrollment at De Soto High School was not yet as large as it was before the opening of Mill Valley High School, Deyoe said.

The new businesses that have located on Commerce Drive and 91st Street were responsible for the additional traffic, Deyoe said.

Councilwoman Mitra Templin was alone in voting against assessing the school district earlier this year, but Councilman Ted Morse's motion to move ahead with that plan failed when he only received the vote of Councilwoman Betty Cannon.

With the school district's exclusion from the benefit district, the process will have to start from the beginning with notification of property owners and another public hearing.

"We're back to square one," Anderson said.

The first step will be deciding who will be asked to make up the $15,000 the school district was to contribute. The options are for the city to make up the difference or to shift the expense on other frontage properties on Commerce Drive and 91st Street.

Councilman Tim Maniez argued businesses not taxpayers should pay for the improvements but he said they should consider the coming need for a signal at 91st Street and Lexington Avenue. It would be difficult for businesses on 91st Street to support a benefit district for that light, he said.

Council members voted 5-0 to instruct staff to bring them a new benefit district financing structure that excludes the school district.

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