by Max Brantley
The North Little Rock School Board has been roused by Mayor Pat Hays' machinations to create an unprecedented sham of a Tax Increment Finance District to steal school property tax dollars for his downtown development designs.
The NLR Daily News reports that the School Board has voted to hire a lawyer to explore future options. It also expressed frustration at the mayor's lack of communication on the issue. I can sympathize. The mayor -- and city attorney -- seem mostly willing to talk these days to those who'll uncritically repeat their fanciful claims. The Board called on patrons to attend Monday's City Council meeting to object to Hays' school money grab.
It's simple. Hays wants to take $100,000 a year of school property taxes from completed projects whose construction is wholly unrelated to any TIF district and use it to help an unrelated hotel proposal.
(Funny, while reporting in detail on the wonderfulness of the Hays plan and how it is designed to evade the legal shortcomings detailed on this blog, the D-G lacked coverage of the School Board meeting.)
More legal advice for the mayor: You may-- MAY and I don't concede the point -- have found a way around legal obstacles I cited to your original plan. But still ripe for challenge is the city's desire to capture school tax millage above the 25-mill required state base millage. Hays wants to rip off 16 mills worth of school taxes. A direct court test is needed on whether the TIF law supersedes the constitutional prohibition against diverting school tax money to other purposes. It shouldn't, if the plain language of the Constitution means anything.
The mayor could easily build a parking deck for a hotel project with an old-fashioned municipal improvement district. But that would require people benefitting from the project to pay for it in property tax assessments, rather than school children.
Internet media mogul Scott Miller of the NLR Daily News also has details on his Argenta News website of the (worthy) proposed hotel development.
Check The Times of North Little Rock later today, too, for Jeremy Peppas' reporting on the School Board meeting.
Peppas reports that the board approved two resolutions that both dealt with the downtown TIF issue.
The first resolution condemned Mayor Patrick Hays' plan to combine the three TIFs.
The second one, approved unanimously, was to hire legal counsel to go over what Mayor Hays is proposing and, if necessary, go to court to challenge the plan.
School Board member John Riley said that among other things, the area didn't meet the definition of blight and that school board hadn't received adequate communication from the Mayor on the matter.
Riley cited from posts on the Arkansas Times Arkansas Blog that questioned the legality of the plan as one of the reasons he was questioning the proposed TIF.