Editorial: Do TIFs need tune-up?

Posted Online: Jan. 22, 2013, 6:00 am
Comment on this story | Print this story | Email this story
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 Wednesday, April 23, the 113th day of 2014. There are 252 days left in the year.

1864 — 150 years ago: Some persons are negotiating for 80 feet of ground on Illinois Street with a view of erecting four stores thereon. It would serve a better purpose if the money was invested in neat tenement houses.
1889 — 125 years ago: The Central station, car house and stables of the Moline-Rock Island Horse Railway line of the Holmes syndicate, together with 15 cars and 42 head of horses, were destroyed by fire. The loss was at $15,000.
1914 — 100 years ago: Vera Cruz, Mexico, after a day and night of resistance to American forces, gradually ceased opposition. The American forces took complete control of the city.
1939 — 75 years ago: Dr. R. Bruce Collins was reelected for a second term as president of the Lower Rock Island County Tuberculosis Association.
1964 — 50 years ago: Work is scheduled to begin this summer on construction of a new men's residence complex and an addition to the dining facilities at Westerlin Hall at Augustana College.
1989 — 25 years ago: Special Olympics competitors were triple winners at Rock Island High School Saturday. The participants vanquished the rain that fell during the competition, and some won their events; but most important, they triumphed over their own disabilities.

(More History)