City Hall hands out tax breaks to developers who promise lots of good jobs. But the payrolls are looking mighty slim.

Not Hiring 

City Hall hands out tax breaks to developers who promise lots of good jobs. But the payrolls are looking mighty slim.

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Parking his Jeep on the future site of the hotel, Garney says the super TIF will help the existing development perform to its full potential and will create a place for groups to meet in Clay County without having to go to a casino. Garney says he doesn't expect to profit much from this phase of the development because he gave the land to the hotelier.

He is optimistic that Briarcliff will reach its job projection someday. FCStone, a commodities brokerage house in Des Moines, Iowa, has agreed to move its company headquarters to Briarcliff when a nine-story office tower opens next summer.

"We're going to do exactly what we said we're going to do," Garney says.

At the Wal-Mart Supercenter in Platte County, parents clutching lists of school supplies cram the skinny aisles. Wal-Mart always has low prices, but these parents are also taking advantage of Missouri's annual sales-tax holiday on school items.

In one aisle, two mothers wonder aloud whether they've selected the correct package of dry-erase markers. One suggests that they're supposed to feel tormented by the supply lists sent by the schools. "I don't know whether the teachers do this because the kids drive them crazy all year or what," she says.

The Wal-Mart is in a development on Boardwalk Avenue, a street near the Interstate 29 and Missouri Highway 152 cloverleaf. The R.H. Johnson Company built the Wal-Mart and a neighboring Lowe's home-improvement store with the help of a TIF plan that the city approved in 1999.

The plan is producing twice the amount of revenue originally forecast. Bob Johnson, the chairman of R.H. Johnson, tells the Pitch that it has created 1,002 jobs — two more than were promised.

Having done its job, the R.H. Johnson Company sold the property to another real-estate company. "We completed our task and moved on," Johnson says.

Still, the project might not be as successful as it looks.

For one thing, numbers filed with the Missouri Department of Development in 2006 indicate that it created only 745 jobs — not 1,002.

By Johnson's count, the Wal-Mart employs 570 individuals. If so, the store employs a couple of hundred more people than the average Supercenter, which has 350 "associates," according to a Wal-Mart Web site.

The Boardwalk Avenue TIF also raises concerns about the kinds of jobs that TIF is creating. Wal-Mart, for instance, is a notoriously stingy employer. In 2004, the staff of a California Democrat in the U.S. House determined that Wal-Mart workers earn such paltry wages and benefits that the average store costs the federal government $420,750 in Medicaid reimbursements and the like.

The TIF-assisted retail boom may be contributing to the Northland's changing demographics. Paul Harrell, the chief financial officer of North Kansas City Schools, tells the Pitch that the number of children receiving free and reduced lunches, a leading poverty indicator, now stands at 36 percent — a substantial increase over the last decade.

Most economic-development projects, Harrell says, have been good for the schools and the Northland. But a generation of children can pass through the school system before a TIF expires. This year, TIF plans will divert $5 million in property taxes from North Kansas City schools to developers.

School officials want more balance. TIF, Harrell says, should be "a true incentive rather than an expected entitlement."

The school districts within Kansas City's borders get to vote on projects when they come before the TIF Commission. But for the past eight years, the schools and other taxing agencies were always outnumbered by appointees of Kay Barnes, a mayor who seemed to think that developers and their attorneys walked on water and healed the blind.

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