The Village of Forest Park is considering asking the state to extend the Brown Street/Harlem Avenue Tax Increment Financing District, which is scheduled to expire in 2023, for another 12 years.

The TIF, which is also known as the Brown Street Station TIF, mostly falls within the area bounded by the Green Line/Metra line embankment to the north, Brown Street to the west, Franklin Street to the south and Harlem Avenue to the east. The village is hoping to use future TIF revenue to fund several projects in the northeast corner of Forest Park, including redoing the Harlem Avenue railroad bridge, demolishing the water tower on the nearby CTA rail yard and replacing lead pipes. The Illinois General Assembly can extend TIFs for 12 years, but the extension must first be approved by all of the affected local taxing bodies. 

On Dec. 8, Forest Park Village Administrator Moses Amidei made the village’s case to the Forest Park School District 91 Board of Education – the first of several such presentations he planned to make to taxing bodies. He said many of those projects may not come to pass or may not require TIF funding – in which case, the village would refund the school district’s share of the money. The board declined to commit one way or another, saying they needed to do their own financial analysis to see if they could afford to lose the higher tax revenue it would otherwise receive if the TIF expires.

When a TIF is created, the amount of tax revenue taxing bodies receive is frozen – in Brown/Harlem TIF’s case, at 2000 levels. The extra property tax revenue – the increment — gets deposited into a TIF fund, where it can be used for development-related costs. TIFs normally last for 23 years, but they can be extended.

Over the years, the Brown Street Station TIF was used for a number of projects – most recently, the repainting of Forest Park’s north water tower.

During the village council’s June 27 budget workshop, Amidei argued the village should extend it – but the commissioners didn’t settle the matter at the time. 

Amidei told the school board that he presented to them first because he felt District 91 had the most at stake. School districts get the largest share of local property tax revenue, and, unlike Proviso Township High School District 209, District 91 gets all of its property tax revenue from Forest Park.

According to the presentation and Amidei’s letter to the district, since the Brown/Harlem TIF was established, the Equalized Assessed Values for the properties – one of the factors used to calculate property tax revenue, more than doubled, going from around $5.2 million to around $12.2 million. Forest Park estimates that, out of $722,866 the village got in TIF revenue in 2020, the most recent revenue year, $272,663 would have gone to District 91. 

Amidei said that, overall, the school district accounts for 38% of the tax bill.

Amidei said Forest Park is looking to fund the local share on two major transit-related projects that have been major long-term priorities for the village. It wants to team up with Oak Park and River Forest to rebuild the railroad bridge that carries CTA and Metra trains over Harlem Avenue to allow taller trucks to pass through and improve traffic flow. Amidei said the village already set aside $2.5 million in Brown Street TIF revenue for that purpose, but he expects that the project would cost at least $10 million. 

He said that he doesn’t expect Union Pacific, which owns the Metra tracks, to pay for the project, but he does expect the Illinois Department of Transportation to chip in, since Harlem Avenue is a state highway. 

“It’s my hope, as the years go on, we won’t have to pay anything, that we can get the grants, that we can get the feds to pay, that we can get the state [to pay],” he said, adding that it was possible “that the village may have some exposure.”

The village is also looking to demolish the CTA-owned water tower, which both Amidei and Mayor Rory Hoskins have described as an “eyesore.” During the Nov. 28 village council meeting, Hoskins said the CTA was willing to discuss the matter. Amidei told the District 91 board that the transit agency hasn’t committed any funds. 

 Forest Park is also considering using TIF revenues to help replace the lead water pipes within the district boundaries, pay for building improvement grants for businesses within the TIF and support future redevelopment of the Forest Park CVS location, which closed Aug. 13, 2021.  

Amidei repeatedly emphasized there is a lot of uncertainty about whether many of those projects would even happen, and that the village doesn’t plan to hoard the money if they don’t pan out.

“If a lot of these projects don’t pan out or may be cheaper than anticipated, we may consider a declaration or surplus, return those moneys back to the taxing bodies.” he said.

The declaration of surplus would send whatever money was collected at the time and not committed to a specific project back to the taxing bodies. 

District 91 board members agreed they wanted to analyze the numbers before deciding one way or another.

“This is, as you said, a big ask,” said Kyra Tyler, District 91 board president. “I think we definitely need more time to process this and connect to our attorney about the implications of this.”

Tyler also noted the village council would need to declare a surplus, “So we would need to rely on people to make that decision.”

She said the board would try to make the decision in January, but she couldn’t promise that.

“I mean, with all due respect — if we’re not ready in January, we’re not ready in January,” Tyler said.