There is no question that economic development is important. In successful communities, all entities work collaboratively together. This has been the case in Stillwater with city and county governments, educational entities and the private sector working to ensure Stillwater is a community we can be proud of and prosper in.
The main source of funding for Meridian Technology Center comes from local ad valorem taxes. In fact, 80 percent of the funds we receive come from this source. During a time when other sources of funding for education are declining – we have lost 20 percent of our state funding in the last 10 years – this local funding becomes more important.
In my role as Superintendent/CEO, I believe that I am charged with ensuring that Meridian Technology Center has the resources it needs to offer quality programs and services. If we, without objection, allow other entities to begin capturing revenue that was dedicated, through a vote of the people, to our organization we will be unable to maintain the level of programs and services that our patrons have come to expect.
The recent article in the Stillwater News Press “Planning Commission Puts Stamp on Downtown Campus Link TIF Project” concerns me that, during tough economic times, one entity is attempting to capitalize on self-benefit at the expense of others.
The question here is not only whether the opportunity is legal, but whether it is the right thing to do.
When used properly, Tax Increment Financing (TIF) can be a tremendous economic development tool. Under a TIF, a specific project plan is developed that does something to create additional value. That additional value is then “captured” to pay for the costs associated with the plan.
In this proposal by the city, there is no plan to create additional value, just a strategy to redirect $32.5 million from other tax receiving entities to be used by them for some future use.
The quote attributed to a planning commissioner in the recent News Press article affirms this: “This is just a gathering of funds. Any actual specific project that may or may not be done under this plan is not being brought before us.”
In the article referenced, the city claims to have found a “value capturing strategy” that, by creating a TIF district, will create a new revenue source. The fact is this TIF simply diverts already occurring revenue away from other service-providing entities, entities like Meridian Technology Center that have the same focus on the economic development of our community.
TIF Area Already Thriving
Within the boundaries of the proposed TIF, growth is clearly occurring. Stand at the corner of 6th and Washington and look northeast to see the development taking place.
If this TIF is not approved, the property tax revenues associated from these developments will go to existing tax-receiving entities that are the legal designees.
When asked that these already developing areas be excluded from the plan, city officials admitted that without them there would be no funding source for their plan.
While Stillwater Public Schools has been protected and actually incentivized with $5.6 million going back to them through the plan, Meridian Technology Center, Payne County and the Payne County Health Department all stand to lose vital funding.
Is It Right and Is It Legal?
The legislative guidelines for the use of TIFs clearly states: “The tools of this act not be used in areas where investment, development and economic growth would have occurred anyway and that the governing body take care to exclude areas that do not meet this criteria.”
We believe that the blatant disregard of these guidelines is, in fact, a violation of the law. No project has been identified and growth is already occurring without the help of this TIF.
What You Can Do
Stillwater residents can provide input at a public hearing on June 4 at 5:30 p.m. in the city hall council hearing room. We encourage you to inform yourself about what the city is planning and contact city council members to express your concerns. More information can be found at meridiantech.edu/educationfundingmatters.
Dr. Douglas R. Major is CEO/Superintendent of Meridian Technology Center.