The hallmarks of good government — openness, transparency, accountability — get reduced to words only when discussions between public elected officials go behind closed doors. I get concerned when this occurs. I believe this is happening now between District 97 and the village of Oak Park in handling the Madison Street TIF.
In 1995, the village of Oak Park (VOP) established the Madison Street Tax Increment Financing District (MSTIF). In that same year, District 97 entered into an agreement with VOP that called for two actions — yearly proportional disbursements of approximately 25% of MSTIF funds to the taxing bodies listed on Oak Park tax bills, and disbursement of 100% of the funds from year 16 (levy year 2010) until the end of the TIF (2018).
In the fall of 2006, the financial situation at D97 was worsening, and it asked the Oak Park Council of Governments (COG) for help. After many months of collaborative discussion, both in the COG and by each taxing body, a proposal to formulate a "lease back" agreement was accepted. This agreement called for D97 to receive $2.37 million from the MSTIF in exchange for delaying by approximately 1.75 years the full (100%) distribution of collected funds. This proposal, in effect, used the dollars, that would have been distributed to each taxing body for levy years 2010 and 2011, to provide funds for D97. Taxing bodies contributed the following approximate amounts to help D97: Library $220,000, Park District $210,000, Township $75,000, Mental Health District $36,000, High School $1.2 M, and Village $600,000.
The 1.75 years of deferred disbursement has been completed. Beginning in levy year 2012 (fiscal year 2013), 100% of MSTIF dollars are to be proportionately dispersed to each taxing body. This was confirmed on Sept.3, 2013, in a letter sent to the VOP chief financial officer for the VOP, signed by the presidents of the D97 Board of Education. Good news! D97 is going to receive $1,294,755 for combined levy years 2011 and 2012. The other local taxing bodies can anticipate receiving (in estimated dollars, based on past disbursements) these amounts: Library $184,000, Park District $210,000, Township $60,000, Mental Health District $36,000, High School $1.2M and Village $540,000.
But wait — the letter goes on to say that VOP should keep the money in a segregated account until D97 decides what to do with the money — no taxing body will receive any money now. Why? Because TIF law requires that no one taxing body can benefit from TIF money unless all taxing bodies receive the same benefit. D97 has decided it is not a benefit to have $1,294,755 distributed to them for inclusion in their budget. Every taxing body must now reduce its budget and the services provided to our community.
I was a D97 board member, when the 2007 lease back agreement was approved. Never in my wildest imagination, did I envision a future D97 board not honoring its agreement to restore full TIF funding to the other taxing bodies as scheduled. The crisis that created the 2007 agreement has passed. D97 now has more permanent funding with the passage of a referendum.
The D97 board needs to honor the terms of its agreements. The village needs to release the funds. It is time for the closed door meetings between D97 and VOP about the TIF and what is "best for the community as a whole" to stop. Good government is open, transparent and accountable.
Sharon Patchak-Layman was a District 97 school board member from 1999 to 2007.