Pat Humston moved to Swope Ridge in 1968. Back then, she and her husband, Jim, liked that the neighborhood felt almost rural, though it was well within Kansas City's borders.
Nestled near Swope Park, south of where 63rd Street meets Interstate 435, Swope Ridge is a working-class enclave that even today seems bucolic thanks to its narrow, winding, hilly streets, and the buffer against noise and commerce that its proximity to one of the Midwest's biggest city parks provides.
"It was quiet. It was countrylike," Humston says. "That's why I moved there."
So Humston and her neighbors were annoyed to learn, in 1991, that Kansas City wanted to help spur the development of a business park near Swope Ridge. Her concerns were assuaged somewhat by the understanding that the plan would at least yield some improvements to the neighborhood. After all, the city had agreed to tax-increment financing to ease the developer's costs — an indication that Swope Ridge was nearing blight, a condition that TIF supposedly cures. The business park's original TIF proposal points out that almost all of the 70 houses there had problems associated with age, weathering and, in some cases, poor maintenance.
Perhaps most problematic: All but two of the houses in Swope Ridge were not served by the city's sewer system.
The septic tanks that Swope Ridge residents had long relied upon made for a nasty situation, according to 1991 development plans drawn up by Kansas City officials with a group called Winchester Ventures. The rocky ground just below the surface of the Swope Ridge neighborhood caused sewage to run off and sometimes contaminate groundwater.
The main objective of what was eventually called the Winchester TIF plan was to build a relatively small business park, and that's what happened. Time Warner Cable has its local headquarters there, and other companies occupy offices.
But no sewer lines went in. Humston and her neighbors still rely on those septic tanks — equipment that has aged another couple of decades.
"We haven't gotten one thing, one piece of what they said they would do," Humston says. She's 77, and her husband is 79; she points out that many of those living in Swope Ridge around at the time of those 1991 discussions are now dead.
But last year, she learned that the Winchester TIF plan would finally help pay for a new project: soccer fields.
When Kansas City leaders first thought of building a soccer field in Swope Park, off 63rd Street and Lewis Road, the city didn't have enough cash to do it on its own.
But there was $11 million of untouched money in the Winchester TIF plan that hadn't gone toward building the business park, or adding sewers to Swope Ridge.
Enter the squabble over Swope Park Soccer Village.
Money for TIF, which redirects property taxes back into a project, comes from several different parties, each governed by its own elected or appointed officials whose agendas don't necessarily line up. School districts and library systems, for example, have grown particularly sensitive about how TIF money gets spent. Tension bubbled over in 2009 when Jackson County and other taxing jurisdictions filed a lawsuit against Kansas City over their voting rights on the Tax Increment Financing Commission, an appointed body that makes recommendations to KC's City Council about how to carry out TIF.
Kansas City, not keen on going to court, largely gave taxing jurisdictions the additional power they wanted.
Another way TIF works also generates friction between Kansas City and other taxing jurisdictions.
Redirected property and economic-activity taxes go into a special account that a developer can access when incurring project costs eligible for taxpayer reimbursement. When a developer doesn't request reimbursements, though, the money just piles up in that account.