ElSaffar spurs discussion on legality of TIF-funded expenditures

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Oak Park Township Assessor Ali ElSaffar has raised some concerns over expenditures made by the Village of Oak Park out of its Downtown Tax Increment Finance (TIF) District fund, saying some of the expenses are unfair or even illegal.

The village's TIF attorney says ElSaffar's concerns are unfounded.

Deliberation over the TIF has mounted with the impending decision to extend the Downtown TIF through 2018. The village began paving the way for the extension by signing intergovernmental agreements with both Oak Park school districts two years ago that established "carve-outs" of newly developed properties, returning revenue to taxing bodies.

"I would like to see us look more into whether those are justifiable expenses," said elementary school District 97 Board President Ade Onayemi. He and others agreed that the place to discuss the matter would be at a TIF Joint Review Board meeting scheduled for tomorrow, Jan. 13.

The expenditures in question include salaries paid to four police officers who patrol business districts in the TIF, including Downtown Oak Park and The Avenue. The village looks to spend just over $300,000 on the officers in its 2005 budget, ElSaffar writes in a memo to "Oak Park elected and appointed officials."

He also identified nearly $135,000 in payments of portions of development department staff salaries, and a $325,000 transfer from the TIF fund with the label "overhead charge" into the village's general fund.

ElSaffar said paying for these things out of the TIF is not fair because any money not spent from the TIF fund goes back to taxing bodies such as school districts, parks and the township.

Also a lawyer, ElSaffar cites a 1999 amendment to Illinois TIF law that forbids TIF funds from being used for "overhead or administrative costs" that a municipality would have incurred whether the area in a TIF had been made a TIF or not.

ElSaffar argues that the police officers, for example, would still patrol business districts regardless of the TIF.

But Darryl Davidson of MaguireWoods LLP, the village's TIF attorney, said the village employs more police to patrol areas of the TIF, and only those salaries are paid for with TIF funds.

ElSaffar said that would mean if the TIF were not extended, those officers wouldn't patrol the business districts, something he doubts the community would want.

"I'm not seeking to start a war here," ElSaffar said. "I pushed this thing to generate a discussion."

He called the expenditures a "gray area," and said he thought the village has "pushed the envelope a bit" in what it can use TIF funds for, and that he'd like to see some of the expenditures he identified to come out of other village funds.

Davidson said that the village doesn't identify every expense it could for reimbursement from the TIF fund.

Davidson called the dispute a "natural tension between the parties. This happens everywhere."

?#34;Drew Carter

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