Community Improvement Districts Laid Bare

In the St. Louis area, municipalities throw around CIDs pretty easily. Downtown Webster Groves wants a parking garage? Increase sales taxes on the places where the people who would use that garage would shop. Downtown St. Louis wants to gentrify a couple blocks? Have property owners mail in ballots to increase taxes on those blocks. Suddenly, you have a patchwork of varied tax rates based on town and mall. Meanwhile, these extra taxes and their impact or purpose are muddied by impacted areas and goals.

Clever, Missouri, however, shows the community improvement district at its most bare:

A heated debate Monday night in Clever had city officials debating whether tax payers will pay a penny more for a Dollar General store. Three of the four Clever Board of Aldermen voted to tentatively support a “self tax.” Chris Montgomery, Brandon Gilmore and Jarred King voted to support a Community Improvement District, or C.I.D. Pattsy Bacon voted against it.

The Clever Highway 14 Community Improvement District would include 1.98 acres near Highway 14 and Highway P. Patrick and Jazell Smith of Republic filed a petition.

They want to spend $822,800 with an estimated $261,700 in public site improvements. The district would pay for all public infrastructure costs including utilities, streets and parking lots. In return they could recoup costs from a 1% sales tax and a property tax of up to $1 per $100 of assessed value.

“This is a self tax,” Clever Mayor Trisha Elam said. “It’s not going to affect every resident or every retail shop, just Dollar General”[sic]

It’s not self-tax, though, Mayor. It’s a tax on people who shop there.

Seems to me if Dollar General wanted it bad enough, it could spend the money for its parking lot and utilities. But it doesn’t have to in modern Missouri. It can get taxpayers to do it for them. And if Clever wanted a Dollar General badly enough, it could spend that money out of its annual budget.

But that’s not the way of the world. Now, governments don’t need to prioritize anything. They make a CID to extract a little more from citizens, or they put another .25% on the ballot dedicated to this essential function or that essential function. In the St. Louis area, they recently put a tax on the ballot to provide better radios for the police and fire departments. If that’s not an essential function of government spending, nothing is.

But it’s not to come from the general budget. No, no. You make the citizens pay for the essential services with the extra dedicated taxes and continue spending the general budget on things the citizens would not approve by majority vote if they had the chance.

Clever will probably get its Dollar General store. And if its experiment works, soon other communities in Southwest Missouri will fall prey to the poor governance that pervades St. Louis.

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