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Oklahoma City’s school board wants to better understand the tax increment financing (TIF) process, especially as the city considers expanding it.

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Bart Binning expains the TIF process to school board members during the Tuesday, Feb. 10th retreat.  mh
  • Bart Binning expains the TIF process to school board members during the Tuesday, Feb. 10th retreat. mh

TIF talks

Oklahoma City’s school board wants to better understand the tax increment financing (TIF) process, especially as the city considers expanding it.

The Oklahoma City Council recently discussed expanding the use of tax increment financing, which is the process of taking property tax growth and using it for incentives for development projects, downtown. While it impacts all jurisdictions that draw revenue from property tax, like the school district, it’s a tool that is solely managed by the city.

“We’ve all been very behind the curb on this,” said Lynne Hardin, school board chairwoman, who invited local realtor Bart Binning (pictured) to discuss the use of TIF with the school board last week during a special meeting.

During TIF discussions last month, the city council was told that school district officials were supportive of the plan. However, district officials said they were not aware of the conversations.

“I had contact with a senior staff member of OKCPS who is no longer with the district,” said Cathy O’Connor, director of the Alliance for Economic Development of Oklahoma City, the organization that oversees the city’s tax incentive programs. “This person had served as the district’s representative on the Downtown TIF district in the past. This is unfortunate, as I think it caused some confusion within the district, as they did not have the information at their fingertips because of the turnover.”

The staff member referred to by O’Connor was identified as Rod McKinley, the district’s chief operating officer, who abruptly resigned last month.

Robert Neu, superintendent of OKC schools, said no one in his administration was aware of the meeting between O’Connor and McKinley.

During a meeting last week, the school board openly discussed its skepticism of the TIF process. Some board members said they would like to negotiate with the city to possibly build a new school downtown, where the new TIF hopes to attract residential development.

“Let’s become the winning recipients of this poker game,” said school board member Justin Ellis.

By the numbers

52. That’s the number of new classrooms the Oklahoma City Public School district has added through the use of portable buildings this year. With the majority of the district’s growth on the south side, most of the portable classrooms have been added to Webster Middle School and U.S. Grant and Capitol Hill high schools.
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Charter schools

In a city where public schools can be used as a deterrent for prospective residents, many city leaders have viewed John Rex Charter Elementary (pictured) as a school that makes downtown a viable option for residents with children, especially the affluent families the city hopes to attract.

“Look at how the [OKC] mayor and [city] council are constantly being told we need more John Rex schools,” Sen. David Holt, R-OKC, said. “But the mayor and council’s hands are tied because they are not a school district.”

Holt filed legislation (Senate Bill 68) that seeks to give the state’s two largest cities — OKC and Tulsa — the ability to sponsor a charter school. While Holt said this does not represent a request from city hall he believes expanding the opportunity for charter schools, especially in urban communities, is a good thing.

“I want to see more school options for parents,” Holt said.

Holt’s bill passed the Senate education committee last week, clearing the way for a possible floor vote. A version of this amendment has been floated before, Holt said, but failed to gain a hearing in past committees.

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Quotable

“The bottom line is there is not going to be a lot of room for growth in the budget, and at this point, I can’t tell you what that will mean,” City Manager Jim Couch (pictured) told the city council during a budget workshop last week.

Low oil prices are likely to continue impacting the city and its large energy companies. There is also a high level of uncertainty about what the future might hold concerning government employment at the state and federal level, which is the largest employment sector in the city. Add in the fact that revenue growth is not on pace to match increasing expenses over the next few years and the city council has tough decisions to make as it prepares the next budget.

City staff will present a Fiscal Year 2016 budget to the council in early May for adoption a few months later.

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