It is easy to beat up on TIF districts — that’s a Tax Increment Finance district to the uninitiated. TIFs are complicated, on a subject, property taxes, that always makes taxpayers suspicious. The self-reporting on TIFs by government sponsors is often inadequate and obtuse. The reporting on TIFs by newspapers is often inadequate and cynical. Mainly, though, it is easy to beat up on TIFs because a lot of them have been poorly imagined and executed while others have been pillaged by local governments looking for the honey pot of available cash.

That’s why it is gratifying to see a TIF come to the end of its long, natural life, usually 23 years, having accomplished its fundamental goal of building future property tax revenues for a town by siphoning off short-term gains and reinvesting in economic development.

Forest Park has pulled this off with a soon-to-shutter TIF district that primarily focused on the creation and nourishment of the Walmart store at the Forest Park Mall. This store, built and later greatly expanded and upgraded, was created out of not much of anything on a long underused parcel along Desplaines Avenue. 

Over decades, it has been pumping out tons of sales taxes and now, when the TIF ends at the close of 2017, it will begin to significantly benefit all local taxing bodies — elementary and the high schools, the library, the village government — as property taxes on this vastly improved parcel begin flowing back to entities that have wisely foregone incremental tax hikes while the project bloomed.

Now, even as the Walmart TIF ends, Forest Park is aggressively creating/restructuring new TIFs along Roosevelt Road as it looks to the future. In a moment when bricks-and-mortar retail is in decline, the path ahead for these TIFs may need to be more creative, with residential components adding to the mix.

But kudos for the genuine success of the Walmart TIF in creating lasting development and growing revenues for all Forest Park taxpayers.


D209s improving finances

If there is something more critical and complex than TIFs, it is bonding for school districts. After more than a decade of financial mismanagement at the Proviso Township High Schools, there is a gradual comeback underway.

Years back, the district issued bonds with the promise that the funds would be invested in long-term capital improvements to the aging school buildings. Instead, the money was plowed into paying day-to-day operating expenses. That’s always the sign of a school district on its way to financial ruin. In fact, the state of Illinois wound up coming in to manage the district’s finances for many years. 

Right now, the D209 school board is working on a refinancing of those old bonds at better rates, with the promise the savings can be used to further build required financial reserves and to pay for long overdue repairs to the buildings. 

More good news for our public high schools. 

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