The Community Service Contract Review Committee and city staff are recommending that the City Commission deny $16,000 in requested funding for the downtown Shawnee Façade Grant Program, although this program has proven tremendously successful in preserving historic structures and improving the overall appearance of downtown.
Also, the return on investment to the city is substantial. Over the last 2 years, $24,000 in grant money provided by the city, Shawnee Economic Development Foundation (SEDF), and Shawnee Industrial Authority has yielded almost $100,000 in façade improvements. Sales tax on materials bought to make these improvements sends some of that money right back to the city. And due to the improvements, new businesses (many retail) have opened and remit sales tax to the city. These businesses employee people who spend their paychecks locally, again sending more sales tax dollars back to the city. As these buildings are improved, ad valorem taxes increase and this increase goes into a special Tax Increment Finance (TIF) fund that will be used for new streets, sidewalks, and other area improvements, resulting in a direct benefit to the city.
So with this kind of return on investment, why can the city not find $16,000 within a $70 million budget to continue the program? Is the city in such dire straits financially? I think not. Last month the city treasurer reported a substantial year-to-date increase in sales and use tax over what was budgeted. The city also recommended approving some of the other programs at an even higher level than they funded last year and approved $286,000 for Shawnee Forward, a portion of which is supposed to be spent on economic development. The Façade Grant program is economic development so why not use a portion of that $286,000 for downtown Shawnee?
I don’t believe the recommendation to defund the Façade Grant program was based on budget constraints. I believe it was based on personal priorities. As a concerned citizen, I have asked the Mayor and commissioners for an opportunity to speak on this before they vote Monday and hope they will grant me that courtesy. I believe the additional information I would like to present will help them realize that money invested in this program is not just an expenditure but rather an investment that will pay for itself many times over in the coming years.