City OKs tax at Planeview store

Take taxation, proximity and tight budgets, mix them with politics and business, and you have the grueling debate that played out in Wichita City Hall on Tuesday.

At its core, the discussion was about letting a proposed grocery store charge its customers an extra 2 percent of sales tax and get a break on its property taxes so that it could afford to locate in one of the city's poorest neighborhoods.

On that front, developer Rob Snyder won. Council members voted unanimously in favor of the tax incentives.

The council and Snyder called it a win for Planeview, which is now closer to getting a Save-A-Lot grocery store at George Washington Boulevard and Pawnee.

But a lot of people left angry.

Mike Collins is the co-owner of the Checkers Food grocery store about a mile away from the proposed Save-A-Lot.

He told the council he strongly opposes the tax incentives and that if Snyder gets them, everyone should.

"This creates an unfair advantage for local merchants," he said.

Wendy Aylworth, who lives near Planeview, said the neighborhood already has Asian and Hispanic markets that serve her needs, and that she worries the Save-A-Lot could put other stores out of business.

"There's not a need for a grocery store," she said. "You can walk across the street and buy your groceries."

But that depends on what you're shopping for, others said.

Dewayne Kitchen, also a Planeview resident, said that the Asian and Hispanic markets are great.

"But they don't have everything I need," he said.

Seth Horn said he has three children and a low income. He supports the tax incentives if it means getting a grocery store closer to his house.

He said walking his kids to a store a mile away isn't realistic and that shopping at gas stations is too expensive.

"There's a lot of people in my situation," he said.

Snyder said he owns several properties in the area and that about 80 percent of his tenants shop at QuikTrip.

"This would give them an alternative," he said.

The 16,500-square-foot store is expected to cost about $2 million. Of that, $403,800 is expected from the incremental property tax growth and $476,640 is projected to come from the 2 percent sales tax.

Some have questioned charging low-income residents extra sales tax.

It has also become an issue of transparency, because customers may not know about the extra tax until they examine their receipt.

Council members plan to have a discussion in coming weeks about whether to require signs or some other notification of the tax to alert customers.

Snyder said that many people use food stamps that don't require sales tax and that others will save more than 2 percent by having a nearby store that often has lower prices than convenience stores.

He said the only way the project can happen is with tax incentives, which Allen Bell, the city's director of urban development, said is confirmed by a city analysis.

"I think the need is there," Snyder said. "I think it's pretty evident. I would love for someone to come up with a different way to make this project work. I really would. I'm not making a ton of money on this project."

A similar Save-A-Lot that opened in 2006 at 13th and Grove was funded with a $750,000 federal grant, $644,000 from the city of Wichita and about $350,000 in tax-increment financing money.

Company officials say that location's customer base grew from 4,000 people a week in 2006 to about 7,000 now.

Ron Rhodes, who operates the store, said that Save-A-Lot can't simply raise prices by 2 percent because of company rules that require all stores to have set prices, with only a few exceptions such as milk.

Council member Paul Gray said he's been critical of tax incentives, but that the Planeview project has merit.

"If there is a need for government involvement," he said, "it's in a circumstance like this when a community absolutely doesn't have the ability to do it for itself."