By Terry Dean
District 97 and the Village of Oak Park will host a joint public meeting this Saturday concerning the possibility of building the school district's new headquarters behind village hall on Madison Street.
But the school district and village don't plan to make a decision about that project or any possible sites at the Dec. 14, meeting scheduled for 8:30 a.m. at Oak Park Village Hall, 123 Madison St. The two taxing bodies plan to discuss that project and get feedback from the community.
A discussion about the Madison Street TIF will also take place at the Saturday morning session. The meeting will be more informational, including providing a background of the TIF and how it works, says Bob Spatz, president of the D97 Board of Education.
Officials from the two taxing bodies insist the two sides are only discussing the idea of D97 relocating to a newly-built structure on the village hall parking lot.
Last week, the D97 board, at its regular meeting, discussed the upcoming joint meeting and what its members would like to see come out of it. A better understanding about the TIF would help not only the public but board members as well, said member Jim O'Connor.
The Madison TIF provides payments to every Oak Park taxing body, including D97 and the village. But how that money gets distributed to the taxing bodies impacts how that money can be spent, said Spatz.
"This is an important distinction we need to make — if the village makes a surplus through the county, it comes to the district as un-restricted funds and we can spend it on whatever we want," said Spatz. "If the village authorizes a TIF expenditure, it is very constrained as to what it can be spent on, and the village is the one that will need to answer that part of the question."
TIFs, also known as tax increment financing, sets aside a portion of property tax dollars for redevelopment of a particular community area; for instance, Oak Park's Madison and Downtown TIF districts.
Cook County redistributes TIF funds — after all tax dollars are collected and calculated — to the taxing bodies. If the village authorizes a TIF expenditure from, say, the Madison TIF, those dollars can only be spent within that district.
"If it comes from a surplus distribution, then it's unrestricted," Spatz said. "We can spend it on whatever we want. If it's not a surplus distribution, it can only be spent on TIF-authorized things. It would be restricted to certain types of expenditures within the Madison Street corridor, which excludes all of our schools."
That's because D97 doesn't have a school building located on Madison Street, Spatz said.
Other board members chimed in on what to expect at Saturday's meeting.
Board member James Gates wants to address community concerns and misunderstandings about the district's plans.
"I want to allay any community concerns. I want to kill any conspiracy theories right out of the box," Gates said. "What is it that we're going to walk out of there with as a product that we can share with the media and the community?"
The meeting, Spatz said, should clear up how the village will meet past-due surplus payment obligations to the taxing bodies. The two sides also need to agree on how surplus payments are handled going forward, Spatz added.
Another is whether the village wants to extend the Madison TIF and put more money into it.
"So, it's what happens with the TIF, what's our expected cash-flow, is it restricted or unrestricted — that's the primary thing we need to get out of it," Spatz said.
As for the headquarters discussion Saturday, Spatz said the two sides will discuss if there's any interest in building behind village hall and how the two sides can share resources if that happens.
Spatz and other members noted that the district is looking at other possible sites as well, including 101 Madison, which is on the market, or becoming a tenant at the proposed Madison-Highland office building being proposed.
Some of that information should be provided by Saturday, Spatz said.
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