TIF decision a divisive issue for Sedalia

Travis McMullen - Contributing Columnist

Travis McMullen

Contributing Columnist


It seems as though Sedalia has been doing a reasonably good job attracting new businesses lately: Steak ‘n Shake, Kohl’s, Rue 21 and Hobby Lobby are just some of the places that are establishing themselves in the Sedalia market.

But there’s never time to rest when it comes to diversifying the local retail and restaurant landscape. Most Sedalians are ready at any moment to provide a substantial list of establishments they would like to see come to the State Fair City.

City leaders seem to understand this, so they put together a local Tax Increment Financing (TIF) Commission that would meet and offer their opinion about the possibility of Sedalia creating special business-ready zones that essentially allows potential businesses to take out a loan against their future tax revenue to pay for some of the costs of construction.

On paper, it’s supposed to be a last ditch effort to do something with land that is mostly useless and undesirable – in practice, communities all over the state like to apply it to any land at all so they can get the cogs of retail establishment turning faster.

In October, the Tax Increment Finance Commission voted 9-2 against establishing these zones in the area behind Galaxy Theater and the land in front of the Econo Lodge. On Monday night, the Sedalia City Council voted in favor of establishing these districts, 6-2. It is a little surprising to see such disparity between the commission that was formed just to advise on TIF matters and the council that actually made the decision.

Once the paperwork is filed and the dust has settled, the land contained within this district will be considered “blighted.” You could go over to those parcels of land today and it would be easy to disagree with the application of that label – these future commercial spaces aren’t filled with dilapidated buildings, garbage or rubble. The land isn’t uneven and unfit for building. But it is land that has been underutilized and it is strange that it is sitting empty in that red-hot section of west Sedalia.

Blighted is a pretty serious designation, and I think people are overreacting to it a little bit. For the purposes of serious discussion, it might be easier to mentally replace the word “blighted” with “TIF ready.” It doesn’t really matter what label is required for TIFication; we shouldn’t argue over semantics.

But maybe we should argue about the general fairness of this new district. It does seem slightly unfair for those Sedalia business owners who had to raise most of their own capital and didn’t get to enjoy the financial benefits of any special districts. When it comes to business establishment, emerging technology and cellphone bills, the early adopters frequently lose because the deals get better in an attempt to lure new customers.

This is what it boils down to: the city is willing to lose out on a little future tax income in order to encourage new retail establishment. They’re willing to bet some of the money that we collectively give them on the future success of these yet-to-be-established businesses. They are willing to do their part to make sure every square inch of west Sedalia is filled with retail space.

But it would be nice to see businesses come to Sedalia because they want to be here and because they think it’s a viable market and not because we’re offering them the best concessions.

Travis McMullen is a longtime Sedalia resident who shares his views on the city through his weekly Democrat column.

Travis McMullen is a longtime Sedalia resident who shares his views on the city through his weekly Democrat column.

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