Karl Peterjohn: Call “public investment” what it is

“Public investment” is a sugar-coated way to talk about government spending, Sedgwick County commissioner Karl Peterjohn said at Tuesday’s staff meeting with department heads and other elected officials.

Peterjohn was talking about the city’s efforts to revitalize downtown and said it bothers him when officials refer to money spent on such projects as a  “public investment.” What it is, he said, is government spending with tax dollars.

Peterjohn, former executive director of the Kansas Taxpayers Network, also asked for more information about tax-increment financing districts and how well they are or aren’t working. The city increasingly is using TIF districts to encourage development in the city’s core area.

TIF districts channel new property tax payments into a fund that pays off bonds on improvements such as streetscaping or a parking garage.

TIF districts affect the county because property tax money doesn’t funnel back. They have been controversial because of concerns about giving private developers a financial advantage.

The county last year balked at the city’s initial plans for a TIF district near Intrust Bank Arena. Commissioners said the city’s original plan for an expanded “Center City” district was too big, undefined and would have an adverse impact on the county by diverting property tax money. The city cut the project in half, outlined specific projects and put a cap on the district.