Forest Park has four TIF districts. That’s Tax Increment Financing Districts. Last week the village council agreed unanimously to pay out up to $700,000 from the Brown Street TIF (really the Harlem and Circle area) to Elite Tire, a longtime business which had built a handsome new facility on Harlem Avenue.
One commissioner, Rory Hoskins, suggested that the village be proactive in posting a range of information on the web about the TIFs in hopes it might attract the interest of a potential business looking to expand. Not a bad notion, though like many of Hoskins ideas, this one was shot down by Mayor Anthony Calderone who said a couple of the TIFs have only minimal funds on hand or those funds are already obligated to a specific purpose.
Calderone may be right about the funding levels. He might be right that there aren’t enough nickels in some of the TIFs to entice a business, though there is more than $3 million in the Brown Street TIF.
There is a reason though to publish as much information as possible about the TIFs and that is because TIFs are confusing. By accident or design, they’re confusing to citizens, to other taxing bodies, to the press, and, we suspect, to a lot of the municipal officials who allegedly oversee them.
This isn’t a Forest Park problem. This is a TIF governance problem that plays out in most every town big or little. Chicago has more than 150 TIFs and if there was a transparency issue that dogged Mayor Richard Daley through his last decade it was the lack of clear information on how TIF funds were used. Rahm Emanuel has pledged to make clear information and consistent criteria for TIFs a priority. In neighboring Oak Park, three taxing bodies have now entered mediation to try to resolve an expensive and divisive lawsuit over splitting the TIF pie there.
TIFs can be a useful tool for local governments attempting to foster economic growth. But they are confusing and they often run on some parallel track from the rest of local government which makes it hard to keep an eye on them. The rules for what you can spend TIF dollars on are lax and in some towns they are abused.
Forest Park ought to actively choose to make its TIFs transparent to those who want to track them. Most people, of course, wouldn’t.
We don’t object to the investment the village is making in Elite Tire through the Brown Street TIF though we find the timeline a bit confusing. The underlying purpose of this TIF, we believe, was to help fund a much broader remaking of the commercial properties on Harlem south of the Green Line. The contentious and extended relocation of Elite coupled with the collapse of the economy has set back those grander plans. That’s OK. Times will improve. New opportunities will present themselves and Forest Park’s TIF will be ready to be tapped.
In the meantime, though, let’s match the mayor of Chicago, and at least consider lifting the veils on TIFs.