We hate to say, “we told you so.” But at this point we’re going to have to make an exception and say it: We told you so.
The intermodal project will benefit the state, the county, Johnson County Community College, and the local fire district. Peripherally, Edgerton will see a cost advantage as well. Gardner may see an increase in business growth, but that and the additional infrastructure needs for Gardner were not included in the study.
The concern has never been either Gardner or Edgerton, but the school district; our area’s largest taxing entity, which the two communities share. State statute does not provide school districts a mechanism to say “no,” on abatements, so it’s much like someone grabbing 75 percent of your pay without getting your permission, or even a cursory nod.
Unfortunately for taxpayers, the school district will see a net loss from the massive project if Edgerton doesn’t make changes to contracts allowing the huge abatement. According to the report, the district will lose 46 cents on every dollar spent over the next 10 years educating new students resulting from the project.
That’s almost a full generation of students.
Who will pay for that lost revenue? Best bury your pennies in the back yard, because under current conditions, district officials will have no choice but to reach into your wallet to make up the difference.
Maybe before the industrial revenue bonds are issued, it’s time for the three major beneficiaries of the million dollar deal, The Allen Group, BNSF, and the state to step forward and be good neighbors.
If The Allen Group doesn’t want to pay its fair share of taxes, we have some suggestions:
•The state, which sees a benefit of 140-plus to 1, could share the wealth. It’s unfair the entire state benefits at the expense of our children. Johnson Countians already export more tax revenue than they receive.
•BNSF and The Allen Group could agree to pay in lieu taxes to make up the difference in school revenue lost.
•BNSF and The Allen Group could set aside land for the district’s future use for a school; maybe even a vo-tech school.
• The two entities could establish an escrow to offset the district patrons’  financial loss.
And before you wring your hands and say it isn’t possible, we’ve seen enough shenanigans involved in this deal to know mountains can be moved when the right entity benefits. Local officials have kept the Interstate 70 toll booths in business traveling back and forth to lobby Topeka for special legislation and deals.
It’s sad. The intermodal isn’t bad for Edgerton, if they can afford it.
And Edgerton residents may eventually get lower city taxes because of the project, much as Gardner would have had the project stayed here. The problem was, and continues to be, school taxes and what it will cost district patrons.
It seems who really benefits are the taxing entities – excluding the school district – but not necessarily the taxpayers.
The question remains: Why is government involved in private enterprise?  Shifting taxes skews the market.
We’ve yet to hear of a large project that has paid off. Most recently, Topeka officials say they will have to increase taxes to offset losses from Heartland Raceway, which was built with STAR bonds – another economic development tool that provides tax incentives to large developments.
Contrary to popular belief, this newspaper’s editorial board has never opposed the intermodal project. We do, however, take issue with large tax abatements that favor one business over another – especially when that favoritism comes at the expense of school children.
It appears Edgerton and state officials are more worried about how much money will pad the coffers of city hall than the effect on local youth.
We implore the USD 231 school board to take steps and oppose this.
It’s about the children.