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City Beat: Tax district proposed for Buc-ee’s travel stop

First reading of budget brings concerns from council regarding Police and Building Development staffing

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The planned $60 million Buc-ee’s travel stop in northeast Springfield could realize the tax advantages of a community improvement district if City Council approves a proposal at its next regular meeting June 13.

Council heard the first reading May 31 of an ordinance to establish Cottle’s Range CID, with an explanation of the plan by Amanda Ohlensehlen, the city’s director of economic vitality.

Ohlensehlen said the Buc-ee’s project – a 53,000-square-foot, 100-pump gas station and convenience store planned for the Interstate 44 and Mulroy Road interchange – calls for some $9.2 million in public improvements, and the city has several tools to reimburse the developer for costs.

One of these tools is the $4.1 million infrastructure reimbursement agreement approved by council Jan. 24. The agreement will reimburse Buc-ee’s developers over a 20-year period by issuing half each of the 1-cent general sales tax and quarter-cent capital improvements sales tax until the reimbursement cap is reached.

Ohlensehlen said the CID provides a new sales and use tax of five-eighths of a cent for up to 20 years to reimburse the developer for another $5.1 million of improvements.

Stan Beard, director of real estate for Texas-based Buc-ee’s, said the capital expenditure for the store, including land and construction, is budgeted between $57 million and $63 million.

The CID is a special taxing district that collects revenue within a specific boundary to reimburse developers for their upfront costs in related public improvements. She said Buc-ee’s will generate a lot of new sales tax while also creating new jobs and opening up more land for development because of the infrastructure improvements.

Projections presented to council estimate the sales tax generated through the CID to rise incrementally from $187,500 in year one to $202,956 in year five of the Buc-ee’s operation.

Ohlensehlen said Buc-ee’s expects to hire over 175 full-time employees and attract 6 million customers annually, the majority of them residing over 20 miles away.

Budget matters
The city’s $445 million budget ordinance for the fiscal year running July 1, 2022, through June 30, 2023, received its first reading, with the second reading and vote on the budget scheduled for June 13.

Councilperson Craig Hosmer addressed the Springfield Police Department budget, noting the force is about 50 officers short, with a budget of $65,000 per unfilled position – meaning some $3.2 million earmarked for officers have gone unused by SPD in fiscal 2022. Most of that unspent money is to be returned to the general fund.

But Hosmer said he had been on council for nine years, and the SPD has been short of officers the entire time.

Hosmer made a motion to amend the budget to eliminate three unfilled officer positions and use the funds to add two traffic safety officers and one investigative service specialist.

City code requires a balanced budget, so for expenditures to be added, adjustments must be made to pay for them. Hosmer’s motion would eliminate three regular officer positions to pay for the new nonsworn personnel; however, SPD has not operated at full strength in many years, so the elimination of three unfilled positions from among 50 or so may not be felt for some time.

City Manager Jason Gage clarified that traffic officers, who are not sworn officers, are responsible for enforcing parking regulations on public streets, issuing warnings and tickets for nonmoving violations, providing traffic control, addressing stalled vehicles, and responding to accidents.

The investigative service specialist would be able to help with requests for data from officer-worn cameras, a task that is new to the department and time-consuming for staff.

Councilperson Richard Ollis raised the concern that Hosmer’s suggestion was not routed through SPD and Chief Paul Williams.

“I’m not sure that I want to as a councilperson be deciding staffing issues from the dais,” he said.

Hosmer called his proposal a support multiplier.

“If public safety is a priority, we have to go ahead and change our budget,” he said.

He noted that if the $3.2 million is lumped into the carryover budget, it likely will be used to repair air conditioners or build sidewalks, but it will not be used for law enforcement. The three positions he proposed fill a need, he said.

“If we as a council don’t support public safety enough, God help us, and God help the city of Springfield right now. We are in a poor situation right now,” Hosmer said.

Hosmer’s amendment was approved 7-2, with Ollis and Matthew Simpson voting against it.

Five members of the public approached council during the comment period on the budget ordinance to request more funding for Building Development Services to address nuisance properties in neighborhoods.

Mayor Ken McClure asked each resident the same question: What funding would they cut in the budget to provide more funding to BDS?

Rusty Worley, co-chair of the city’s Nuisance Property Work Group, said the funds can come from fines, which he described as dollars left on the table.

“We have not fully implemented fines nearly to the extent that we could,” he said.

Worley noted repeat offenders, some of whom have owned nuisance property for years or even decades, can be issued fines to help pay for the kind of changes residents want.

“This is the time to do it. This is the time when we have more resources on the table than we’ve ever had,” Worley said.

Worley said the Forward SGF comprehensive plan stresses neighborhood revitalization as a key focus area.

“When you talk about quality of place, this is it,” Worley said.

Other action items

  • Council was asked to approve a $300,000 loan for the Maplewood Villas affordable housing project for seniors, to be built at 400 N. Duke Ave. At its next meeting, council will vote on the ordinance, which would provide 44 units of affordable housing in 11 four-plex buildings using universal design for residents 55 and older.

The loan is through the Comprehensive Housing Assistance Program administered by the Department of Planning and Development, and it is one of two granted in Springfield out of about 100 applicants, according to Bob Jones, grant administrator. The loan would have a fixed interest rate of 0.75%.

The complex calls for 11 units for formerly homeless veterans, with most other units reserved for people at 60% of the area median income.

The project is being developed by The Kitchen Inc.

  • Council was asked to approve a memorandum of understanding with the state of Missouri on the city’s share of national opioid lawsuit settlements.

Springfield joined several other states and local governments in suing opioid manufacturers. A settlement against opioid manufacturer Johnson & Johnson outlines a 60% share to the state and a 40% share to litigating subdivisions, including Springfield. A settlement against Purdue and Mallinckrodt gives 85% to the state and 15% to litigating subdivisions.

Hosmer raised a concern about the apportionment.

“It seems unfair the state of Missouri would take such a large share when most of the damage is local and not the state’s,” he said.

The measure will be taken up June 13.

Comments

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jlrpayne@gmail.com

Buc-ee’s buys Springfield a new interchange, almost no doubt spurs new development, and Springfield pays them back over the next 20 years with tax revenue generated by a highly successful and popular business. Sounds like a slam dunk.

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