River District Clears A Hurdle

Tuesday, November 13th 2007, 10:36 am

By: News On 6

Jenks moves one step closer to bringing a billion dollar development to the banks of the Arkansas River. A city committee on Tuesday night approved a plan to create a special tax district to spur the development. The News On 6’s Ashli Sims reports there’s one major employer in Jenks which voted against the plan.

Jenks Public Schools cast one of the three votes against the plan. The tax increment financing or TIF district passed anyway. The school district says it's in favor of development, but against The Jenks River District, a billion dollar development set along the Arkansas River, just south of the Creek Turnpike.

The Jenks River District may have cleared another hurdle, but not without a fight from Jenks school leaders.

"We've got to have some additional assistance to jump in here and be able to operate along the way,” said Nancy McKay, Jenks chief financial officer.

This committee of community leaders approved $294 million in tax increment financing to make the river district a reality. A TIF district freezes the property tax rate at its current level. And, any taxes above that level are given back to the developers to help pay for infrastructure.

"It's critical. It's everything. There's a lot of work to be done. And TIF's were designed for this. Helps build public infrastructure on the backs of private developers. And, they absorb the risk,” said developer Lynn Mitchell.

Jenks Public Schools says the TIF district ties their hands financially. They say the development will increase their student body and drive up their costs.

The district had asked for $13 million over five years to offset those costs. But, developers would only agree to $500,000 a year over the life of the TIF district.

Jenks Mayor Vic Vreeland says the developers shouldn't have to pay more, because the growth is going to happen anyway.

"We were just voted one of the top 50 places in the country to live. Those people are coming, not because of river district. They're just coming,” said Mayor Vic Vreeland.

"The mayor and I respectfully disagree,” said Dr. Kirby Lehman, superintendent of Jenks Public Schools.

Dr. Lehman says growth was flat for years until Tulsa Hills was announced in 2005. Since then, he says enrollment has spiked.

The developer argues as families move in, rooftops go up and so do property taxes. Dr. Lehman says the students will come long before that money does.

"So they have to be housed, before we get the funding from their home. And that's what we're having a difficult time getting across. We need to have the classroom ready when those students arrive,” said Dr. Kirby Lehman.

Jenks Public Schools says they're going to work with state lawmakers to try to change TIF laws because the district feels they unfairly impact schools.

The next step for the proposed Jenks River District will be before the Jenks City Council. Jenks stands to get $500,000 in property taxes for 18 years. In the 19th year, they could see more than $12 million.

Watch the video: TIF District Closer For Jenks

Related story:

11/7/2007 City And School District Discuss Development

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