Editorial: Do TIFs need tune-up?

Posted Online: Jan. 22, 2013, 6:00 am
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The Dispatch and The Rock Island Argus
Earlier this month Atkinson became the latest local government entity to create a TIF district.

That's hardly earth-shattering news, of course. Indeed, we'd venture to say, most of the communities in the Illinois Quad-Cities area have approved a tax increment finance district or been asked to consider one.

There also doesn't seem to be anything all that remarkable about the fact that the TIF approved by the Atkinson Village Board and supported by Mayor August Junior covers nearly all of the town.

Mayor Junior told village trustees the new TIF "will be good for generations to come." There is good reason for his optimism. When used effectively, they bring development to areas that might otherwise not have seen any without their benefits.

By now, most folks know the basic fundamentals of how TIFs work. Any increase in property tax assessments from new development within the TIF district goes into a special fund for use in attracting additional development, improving infrastructure within the district or repaying some development costs. Most Atkinson trustees backed the new TIF. Though the fact that two trustees will not be able to vote on TIF matters -- they own property in the TIF district -- show just why TIFs should be carefully handled.

But are they always? A growing number of critics say no. They subscribe to the notion that TIFs should be used both effectively and sparingly. They also say that many of the flurry of TIFs being created here and throughout the state don't follow the parameters detailed in the legislation that created them in the first place.

Some state lawmakers think so, too. Each year bills are introduced, but go nowhere, to add restrictions to Illinois' TIF laws. (Lawmakers in other states, including neighboring Iowa, also regularly try to scale them back.)

Here in Illinois, we've opposed some of them as job killers. Others that appeared to have merit were never seriously debated despite the growing number of complaints about TIF district creation and practices which critics charge don't comply with those provisions of statutes already in place.

Locally, for example, in East Moline, Ald. Dave Kelley, 5th Ward, has asked the offices of the Illinois Attorney General and state Comptroller to investigate concerns about some of the city's TIF districts. Among them is repayment of $550,000 in TIF funds from two city TIFs mistakenly used for expenditures not eligible under TIF rules.

And in Moline, a group of citizens have been educating themselves about TIF districts in a city that now has a whopping nine of them and another pending. We dismiss the efforts of such people at our own peril. TIF issues aren't limited to bigger cities. Aledo, for example, has faced questions regarding its own sprawling TIF district.

Please note that we are not writing in criticism of any particular TIF, many of which we have supported on these pages. Nor are we singling out Atkinson, Moline, East Moline or Aledo for criticism. But in acknowledging the financial boon TIFs can bring, it's also important to remember that they do not come without costs.

Indeed, school districts around the state, including here in the Quad-Cities have become increasingly vocal about the price their students pay when the growth created by TIF districts increases their schools' responsibilities without providing additional money to pay for them. Fire protection districts, library districts, counties and other taxing bodies also are affected. Remember, too, that it is taxpayers, not developers or government leaders who will write the checks.

What's the answer?

Back in December, in the wake of a bill giving a permanent tax break to a tenant of the Quad Cities International Airport, we noted that government incentives aren't going anywhere and will surely grow as the area tries to grow itself.

TIFs are one of the many economic development tools we were talking about when we urged local leaders to accept the challenge to explore creative ways to mitigate the impact of incentives on the community. State leaders, too, should take on TIFs in a comprehensive rather than a piecemeal way. It seems clear to us that after decades of experience with them, TIFs could use a fine-tuning.

The challenge remains. Any takers?


Local events heading

  Today is Monday, Sept. 22, the 265th day of 2014. There are 100 days left in the year.

1864 -- 150 years ago: The board of education has granted Thursday as a holiday for the children, with the expectation that parents who desire to have their children attend the Scott County Fair will do so on that day and save irregularity the rest of the week.
1889 -- 125 years ago: The guard fence around the new cement walk at the Harper House has been removed. The blocks are diamond shape, alternating in black and white.
1914 -- 100 years ago: The Rev. R.B. Williams, former pastor of the First Methodist Church, Rock Island, was named superintendent of the Rock Island District.
1939 -- 75 years ago: Abnormally high temperatures and lack of rainfall in Illinois during the past week have speeded maturing of corn and soybean crops.
1964 -- 50 years ago: Installation of a new television system in St. Anthony's Hospital, which includes a closed circuit channel as well as the three regular Quad-Cities channels, has been completed and now is in operation.
1989 -- 25 years ago: When the new Moline High School was built in 1958, along with it were plans to construct a football field in the bowl near 34th Street on the campus. Wednesday afternoon, more than 30 years later, the Moline Board of Education Athletic Board sent the ball rolling toward the possible construction of that field by asking superintendent Richard Hennigan to take to the board of education a proposal to hire a consultant.

(More History)