Mediation starts in Oak Park TIF lawsuit

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By Marty Stempniak

Staff Reporter

Three Oak Park governmental bodies — which have spent $424,075 battling each other in front of a judge — started trying to resolve a year-long dispute outside of court last week.

Oak Park and River Forest High School, village hall and elementary school District 97 held their first "mediation" session on Wednesday, June 22, in the Loop. The three sides met with mediator and former judge Julia Nowicki for about nine hours, at a cost of $500 per hour, according to Village Manager Tom Barwin.

The dispute centers on how much village hall owes the two school districts from its controversial downtown tax increment financing district, which funnels a percentage of property tax dollars away from schools and other taxing bodies. The TIF fund is created by freezing property taxes at a certain level and using future tax revenues above that amount for development and infrastructure projects in a designated area.

In its latest court filing, the high school pegs the amount it's owed as over $2 million.

Barwin declined to say what was discussed in the mediation session but said the three sides do plan to meet again sometime in July.

OPRF Supt. Steven Isoye also declined to comment on what happened last week, as the high school has decided to keep the content of the discussions private. He confirmed that another session is planned and said it's positive that things are moving forward.

"We want to ensure that the process can do what it needs to do, so we're really not commenting," Isoye said.

D97 Supt. Al Roberts also declined to comment but said he wishes they were never involved. (D97 was later added as a defendant in the lawsuit, since it also signed the 2003 agreement that extended the life of the TIF.)

"I can say that I remain hopeful that this matter can be resolved sooner rather than later," Roberts said in an email. "In my opinion, District 97 should never have been dragged into the conflict."

Reader Comments

41 Comments - Add Your Comment

Comment Policy

Happy  

Posted: June 27th, 2011 6:17 PM

murtagh,chesney,coughlin.....................coming to a ticket near you!

john murtagh from oak park  

Posted: June 27th, 2011 3:42 PM

Ben Joravsky - from last week's READER (www.chicagoreader.com) 1) "An EDA (Economic Development Area) is like a TIF except the area doesn't have to be blighted. Though, as I've discovered through the years, there are so many loopholes in the TIF law that TIF districts don't really have to be blighted either%u2014otherwise Chicago's downtown wouldn't have any." 2) In the article - Uptown neighborhood voted down a $50M dollar TIF, 3)The legislative effort to give schools more control over TIFs failed.

The Truth Hurts  

Posted: June 27th, 2011 2:56 PM

murtagh consulting the VOP. Now thats comedy. Transparent too. Thank jm

john murtagh from oak park  

Posted: June 27th, 2011 2:05 PM

PORTAL 1 - To: Craig, Teresa and any others interested in the OP Website. The big problem is that it is a "website." It has to be a PORTAL. A portal is a collection and distribution site that links all village information electronically through a Webmaster that is responsible for the not only its technology, but acts as the librarian. A portal not only provides a depository for retrieval, but a website for each contributor to the PORTAL.

john murtagh from oak park  

Posted: June 27th, 2011 2:04 PM

PORTAL 2 That is; each department has its one site that allows personalization, but uses common technology. When you sign onto the portal, you click "public works" and you access the live information that they choose to make public. Restricted information can made available to those with access approval while ensuring that all village information is available 24/7. A well built portal adds incredible efficiency, speed, and a myriad of links that are well documented and managed regularly.

john murtagh from oak park  

Posted: June 27th, 2011 2:04 PM

PORTAL 3 Several years ago I suggested the building of a portal but was told it would cost $300,000 which was not budgeted. Simultaneously D97 built a portal that links all buildings and departments. It is operational and cost a lot less than $300,000. Ultimately, OP needs a portal that links the entire village. That is; all taxing bodies public information can be one shop accessed. My experience is that any cost, even $300,000, would be amortized in less than two years.

Jim Coughlin  

Posted: June 27th, 2011 11:48 AM

Still with the hokey screen name and the same, stale drivel.

The Truth Hurts  

Posted: June 27th, 2011 11:38 AM

The life of a retired OP employee. I thought your suppose to fish or travel? Endless hours complaining about Village government? The golden years I tell ya.

Jim Coughlin  

Posted: June 27th, 2011 11:20 AM

Of course, you should watch Fox News. It's important to know the enemy. Read "Inside The Fox News Fear Factory" by Tim Dickinson in the June 9 issue of Rolling Stone.

The Truth Hurts  

Posted: June 27th, 2011 10:03 AM

Dont worry Mrs. Powell, Its not the real issue here. It seems to be just another thing they can BLAME on the VOP for all of their misery. Ha

Teresa Powell  

Posted: June 27th, 2011 8:55 AM

The Village website is challenging; hopefully improvements will be on the way as part of Village technology improvements. For those who want to view the TIF presentation referenced below, here's the link: http://www.oak-park.us/public/pdfs/Budget_Finance/06.01.10_TIF_meeting.pdf Or go to website, then departments, then Finance, and look at right sidebar for Tif presentation.

OP Resident # 545 from Oak Park  

Posted: June 27th, 2011 8:52 AM

Jim, Truth: you know the discussion has devolved into nothingness when an Oak Parker throws out the "too much Fox News in your diet" line. Of course, for most Oak Parkers that's the first rebuttal of any opposing viewpoint, but I'll give Mr. Coughin credit for a strong effort. He must actually watch Fox News some of the time because he seems pretty intelligent.

The Truth Hurts  

Posted: June 27th, 2011 12:50 AM

To little Oak Park in your diet. Hmmmm

Jim Coughlin  

Posted: June 27th, 2011 12:45 AM

Still hokey. Too much Fox News in your diet.

The Truth Hurts  

Posted: June 27th, 2011 12:13 AM

Gee, You come off as jim coughlin. Priceless

Jim Coughlin  

Posted: June 27th, 2011 12:01 AM

Lose the hokey dub if you expect to be taken seriously. You're coming off as a Glenn Beck wannabe.

The Truth Hurts  

Posted: June 26th, 2011 10:42 PM

coughlin, the hr rates for both law firms was provided in an WJ article. There is so much skepticism and indirect assumptions in your comments to make people think there is so much ineptitude and irresponsibility on the part of the board. It seems you want more info just to find something to BLAME on them since you have nothing at the moment, minus the no bid contracts. Oh gee.

Craig Chesney from Oak Park  

Posted: June 26th, 2011 9:17 PM

John - the OP Village website is a lunker. They admit it needs to be streamlined, but with budget cuts...TIF info is under the Departments heading, under the finace department. They date back to 2000. It clearly depicts line item expenes, but not what the specific contractors or consultants produced. If you need help, you know Teresa Powell is always a helpful resource to navigate the webpage.

john murtagh from oak park  

Posted: June 26th, 2011 8:41 PM

Hi Craig -- you have more patience than me. I rarely if ever search the OP website. Just to ensure that they had not improved it, I typed in "TIF" on the search bar. When "TIF" was opened it had over 1600 documents. The order of documents is either encrypted or totally random. When I have used the site, I have found the wrong information, and documents that are not dated. I trust nothing from the OP Site. It is without question the worst municipality website I have visited.

Jim Coughlin  

Posted: June 26th, 2011 6:44 PM

You're right, Craig. But let's have more info than less. There are people in our community who are wonks and could let us know if the services actually represent the best use of tax dollars. The issue of reports produced by the army of consultants who've been paid millions is an issue. Taxpayers deserve to look at the product. Regarding Tucker and Salzman, I don't think it's too much for them to ask that the public be provided with full disclosures on TIF expenditures. Especially, no bid deals.

Craig Chesney from Oak Park  

Posted: June 26th, 2011 5:02 PM

Jim - I do believe the Trustees operate in good faith on our behalf. So I wouldn't review service contracts etc. I would agree though if I am searching, all the details should be present. I just think it would be easy to inform the public about TIF etc, instead of having to search for it. As for Salzman and Tucker I think you should give them a break. Their first vote was against S Marion redo. It will take time if they are going to implement a new way to publically convey contracts etc

Jim Coughlin  

Posted: June 26th, 2011 4:35 PM

It's all in the details, Craig. What exactly has been produced by the numerous consultants paid with TIF dollars? Where can you review those reports? How many contracts were awarded without an open bidding process? What are the specifics outlined in a service contract? Just the listing of a bunch of names and the amount paid does not provide the adequate details that any well-run public organization willingly provides. Where's the "greater transperancy" promised by Tucker and Salzman?

Jim Coughlin  

Posted: June 26th, 2011 3:10 PM

One thing we still have yet to learn is the hourly rate taxpayers are being charged by these law firms. Again, this is all about transperancy. That was promised by Bob Tucker and Adam Salzman during their campaigns but we've heard next to nothing from either trustee since the election. Maggie is right that the only party not represented at the table is the taxpayer. We're on the hook for all of these bills but our voices will not be heard. Not a single elected official has stood up for us.

Maggy  

Posted: June 26th, 2011 10:59 AM

these discussions should not be 'private'. these are public entities supported by tax money. I resent my tax money going towards the fees, they need to be spent on educating the children of our community.

Craig Chesney from Oak Park  

Posted: June 26th, 2011 9:28 AM

John - as for transparency, we can see all of the TIF docs online at the Village website. We can see all expenditures etc, but it doesn't make it easy to understand, especially from the revenue side. The website also has a TIF presentation in the finance department.

Craig Chesney from Oak Park  

Posted: June 26th, 2011 9:21 AM

One reason there is division on this issue is that some projects have changed the nature of the Village with the promise of a larger tax base. The tax base may have expanded, but resident's tax bills continue to rise. There needs to be a simple financial summation on Whiteco, etc to the public, so residents can understand the economics of these projects and how/when taxing bodies will benefit. Without this, expect much more drama when the Village attempts to redo Madison Ave.

john murtagh from oak park  

Posted: June 25th, 2011 11:38 PM

Seems to me that the use and/or misuse has been so divisive in the village, that any commercial benefit has not been worth the trauma and drama. The real test of the issue is when a new TIF is proposed or a old one renewed. There will be a higher level of scrutiny by all taxing bodies and a higher level of public interest and questions. A higher level of transparency will be expected How the village gov't handles that will decide the the future of TIF's in OP.

Gary Schwab from Oak Park  

Posted: June 25th, 2011 1:55 PM

"Truth Hurts" - In case you missed it, there was a real estate boom a few years ago. People figured out they could make lots of money by building junk, getting it over-appraised, and selling it to people with poor credit with low (or no) downpayments and low initial interest rates. Throughout the Chicago area, including Oak Park, things got built all over without government assistance. On the other hand, our new vacant lots could never have happened without the Village's wisdom.

The Truth Hurts  

Posted: June 25th, 2011 12:01 PM

Gary, The sites I refer to were parking lots for at least 20 years or more. TIF's create an incentive for development. IT does happen. I can see what was developed with actual TIF dollars. What you are trying to compare is hypothetical. Nobody knows if any developers would have even looked at any of these locations to build. TIF dollars are also used in private developments. It doesnt have to be land acquired from the Village.

Gary Schwab from Oak Park  

Posted: June 25th, 2011 10:58 AM

"Truth Hurts" - Once again, the fact that a new development occurs is NOT proof of a TIF benefit. For the TIF to be good investment, it needs to produce tax revenues ABOVE and BEYOND that which would have come about without subsidy. Most of the sites you've referenced would have been developed without Village involvement. The vacant Village-owned sites likely wouldn't be vacant if the Village hadn't played developer.

Jim Coughlin  

Posted: June 25th, 2011 1:06 AM

Still hokey.

The Truth Hurts  

Posted: June 24th, 2011 11:58 PM

So coughlin, your beef is really with how the TIF funds get divvied up? Your assumptions seem that there is irresponsible allocation of those dollars. I disagree. This is Oak Park after all and we know how to do things the wright way. The process is dictated by the law not by Oak Park. Your speaking to the wrong crowd my friend. :-) Dont be such a pessimist.

Jim Coughlin  

Posted: June 24th, 2011 11:26 PM

Enough, TTH. I understand how a TIF works. It produces a large pot of money that is not subject to the same oversight as a community's operating budget. Not all of the people who sit at the table making decisions on TIF expenditures are elected officials. We are able to watch the Board's budget deliberations on TV6. Residents are urged to participate in the process. Not so with the DTOP TIF. Finally, to dub yourself as the truthteller is really hokey? Your act is just a ripoff of Glenn Beck

Joe  

Posted: June 24th, 2011 10:46 PM

@ Confused, A TIF is basically a tax abatement used to lure in businesses. The taxes received for that TIF are earmarked for reinvestment in that area. Schools etc. get mad because the villages manage the TIF and without a TIF you'll get your tax revenues every year instead of waiting till the abatement is over. That's a bare bones version of a TIF.

The Truth Hurts  

Posted: June 24th, 2011 10:29 PM

I have. Just take a look a all the parking lots that were turned into living spaces that pay taxes. Thats an increase in TAX revenue. Simple.

john murtagh from oak park  

Posted: June 24th, 2011 9:52 PM

Truth - Prove it! "As coughlin often does he forgot one thing- TIFs increase the tax base for the TIF areas."

The Truth Hurts  

Posted: June 24th, 2011 9:35 PM

As coughlin often does he forgot one thing- TIFs increase the tax base for the TIF areas. Simple put- They freeze the taxes at a certain yr or rate and anything above that rate gets collected into a fund and is then used for development to improve the area so that it will produce MORE tax revenue for the district than otherwise would have. They are a very useful tool for much needed economic development.

Jim Coughlin  

Posted: June 24th, 2011 7:52 PM

Hello, Confused. The best investigative reporting on TIF districts had been produced by Ben Javorsky in The Reader. You can find many of his articles online. The TIF was intended to assist poor cities in stimulating economic development but communities that could not qualify found loopholes in the law to create their own districts. That's how Oak Park entered the game. A TIF produces a huge pot of money for local officials to draw from with little oversight, transperancy or accountability.

Another OP resident from Oak Park  

Posted: June 24th, 2011 6:51 PM

Here here

Enuf is Enuf from Oak Park  

Posted: June 24th, 2011 6:08 PM

Since the public is paying the expense of the private mediator, which involves three Oak Park governmental bodies, it would seem that the public (and media) has the right to attend and observe the mediation sessions. I feel very uncomfortable having public funds expended by the village, D200 and D97 to settle a dispute in isolation re. the allocation of public funds while the public itself is excluded. Are we to await puffs of smoke (fumata) from the mediator's chimney for any information?

Confused from Oak Park  

Posted: June 24th, 2011 5:22 PM

Can anyone explain, in very simple terms, what a TIF is and why we even have one of these any more? Who gets the tax break? Where does the money go? And most important -- WHY?

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