Forest Park’s village government on Monday threw its support behind a statewide effort by local villages and cities to beat back possible challenges in Springfield to limit how Tax Increment Financing districts are structured. 

This is a pre-emptive action by the Illinois Municipal League to get ahead of possible legislation, proposed and blocked in the last legislative session, that could get filed this year.

Concurrently, and under the existing regs governing how TIFs work in Illinois, Forest Park’s village government is intentionally working to win a 12-year extension of the Brown Street Station TIF. This district, focused on the area surrounding Harlem and Brown Street at the northeast corner of town, is due to shutter at the end of this year after its 23-year lifespan.

Moses Amidei, village administrator, has been working diligently over past months to convince a batch of other local taxing bodies — schools, parks, library, etc. — that an extension is necessary and in their long-term interest. Before the state legislature can extend any TIF, it needs specific buy-in from local taxing bodies.

Amidei is right in saying that smaller towns such as Forest Park, which lack Home Rule authority, need TIFs because the options for spurring economic development are otherwise sparse.

That’s why we have regularly, at times reluctantly, supported the creation of TIFs and sometimes their extension. Forest Park currently has three TIF districts. Two are on Roosevelt Road, the other being the Brown Street Station TIF.

The challenge of TIFs in every jurisdiction is that, once they win approval, the municipalities controlling them get very quiet on how those funds are used. Nothing illegal. But not transparent, either. The local taxing bodies get one joint meeting a year — formulated as the TIF Review Board — to get some level of update. But the group has little actual power. 

Right now as Amidei, repping the positions of the mayor and village council, makes his case to the schools and other bodies, we get the clearest insight into how monies from Brown Street might be spent if the extension is won. And frankly it is a mixed bag.

Our support within TIFs has long been for creating funding mechanisms that spur commercial and residential development. Those are the projects with the potential to create long-term added property taxes and possibly sales tax revenues. So right now, the prime development site in the Brown Street TIF is the abandoned CVS on Harlem. Turning that into a five-story, mixed-use project would be a win.

However, as suggested, spending local tax dollars to help the CTA remove its ugly water tower has no long-term benefit to the local economy. Replacing lead water service pipes is a fine infrastructure project for a very small portion of the village. Perhaps this is the only way to make that happen. But it doesn’t juice the fund balances of the village or the schools.

Our point is that now, during this election season, is the time to force more open discussions on what an extended TIF would be used to fund.