View from QCA: Crucial facts about TIFs

Posted Online: Nov. 12, 2012, 6:00 am
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By Sandy O'Neill
Later this month, the Moline City Council will decide the fate of the two remaining proposed tax increment financing districts, choosing either to follow the recommendations of city staff and approve them, or to truly represent the best interests of Moline by denying them both.

Based on past performance of the seven existing TIF districts, it is time for the council to call a halt to this so-called investment experiment, because the only real "returns" have been increased taxes and fees, reductions in city services, and growing budget deficits for years to come.

I have been a critic of TIFs for a long time, and when the proposals came up earlier this year for Genesis, Routes 6 and 150 and SouthPark Mall, I decided to get involved and make a concerted effort to truly understand the TIF concept.

I began with the existing Moline TIFs, reviewing documents posted on the city website. There I found annual reports and minutes from Joint Review Board meetings. I checked the Illinois Comptroller's website for reporting requirements, and the Illinois TIF Association for general background information, all in an effort to educate myself as much as possible.

I began attending city council meetings, and made a special effort to be there when TIF issues were on the agenda. Lastly, I started collecting newspaper articles related to TIF issues, not only in Moline, but in other communities as well.

Unfortunately, the more I learned, the more concerned I became. Even though there is a state statute governing TIF districts, in Moline there seems to be a trend to loosely interpret the rules.

For example, with the seven existing TIFs, full rebates have been granted before developments have been completed. City building codes/ordinances have not been enforced with no reason given. Lease payments have been allowed to fall two and a half years behind with no apparent attempts of recovery.

Joint Review Board meetings have been conducted for years without the presence of the public member, the taxpayers' so-called representative.

The annual reviews have been inconsistently reported as to format, making it difficult to track performance. Most recently, the Joint Review Board conducted business with only two of seven members present, and then adjourned a meeting only to reconvene it 23 minutes later when a third member conveniently arrived to resuscitate a motion that had died earlier for lack of a second.

Now back to the business at hand, proposals for SouthPark and Route 6/150. I expected representatives of both to spend an evening with the council and the public, explaining their projects and needs. They didn't bother. They had no input at the Oct. 23 public hearing. Of course the hearing only lasted 37 minutes as it was sandwiched between two budget study sessions that absolutely could not be rescheduled, according to city administrator Lew Steinbrecher and Mayor Don Welvaert.

People left with more questions than they had when they arrived.
So as the night for the vote approaches, I hope the council members remember some important facts. With TIF districts, revenues from these properties stay frozen while costs of running the city increase. Someone must make up the difference.

As more and more of the city becomes TIFs, there are fewer homeowners and existing businesses to absorb those extra costs. It is an unreasonable burden for an unreasonable length of time, so they should not approve tax increment financing for SouthPark and Route 6/150.

If they are truly worthy projects, private financial institutions will step up and fund them; then Moline can return to using taxpayer dollars to run the city.
Sandy O'Neill lives in Moline.


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