River Forest Trustee Steve Hoke appears to have changed the trajectory of discussions regarding use of surplus tax increment financing (TIF) funds, suggesting the village board direct a significant portion of any surplus to the School District 90.
Hoke made the suggestion at a special River Forest village board meeting Sept. 9, held to discuss a draft of the corridor study plan, which focuses on the village’s three commercial districts.
The study also reviews projects the board might fund with $6 million in available TIF funds. Hoke urged the board to consider directed payments to the park district and school district for use on specific needs within the TIF district, which runs for a block or so in either direction along Lake Street from Harlem Avenue to Thatcher.
Such projects might include an addition to Lincoln School to accommodate full-day kindergarten and additional community meeting space.
The property tax portion of the TIF expires on Dec. 31. Money left unspent must, by law, be returned on a pro-rated basis to the taxing bodies listed on local property tax bills. Money has already been allocated for improvements at village hall and for technology upgrades in River Forest Town Center.
The sales tax component of the TIF expires in 2013.
“Ideally, we want to leave the money in River Forest,” Hoke said. “If we just let the TIF expire, we’re going to be giving money back to everybody.”
“Currently some 12 percent of village property taxes go outside the village, not including payments to the high school, which total around 33 percent. Hoke said the high school, with a $72 million surplus, had no need for the extra cash
Rigas and village trustees Susan Conti and Mike Gibbs met in joint session with the park district board Monday night for a final discussion of some $441,000 in proposed park projects to be possibly funded through the TIF.
Included is a renovation to the train depot housing the park district headquarters, extensive landscaping of the Memorial Park site in the 7500 block of Lake Street, a rubberized play surface for the Keystone West playground and “hard surface” improvements to Keystone East.
Not on the list, but mentioned by park commissioners, is a possible resurfacing of the seven Keystone East tennis courts, costing $175,000.
Schools need more space
In District 90, enrollment in kindergarten is 25 percent less than in first grade, which Hoke attributed to the lack of an all-day kindergarten program. Many parents, including Hoke, pay to send their children to private full-day kindergarten.
“If there’s one problem in town, it’s we do not have all-day kindergarten in River Forest, because we don’t have the space for it,” said Hoke.
He asked the board if it might be possible to make a “targeted payment” to the school district to construct an addition at Lincoln School, which is adjacent to the TIF district on Lake Street. He noted a recently published District 90 facilities plan called for possible expansion of all three of its school buildings.
Trustees seemed largely supportive of the concept, though concerned about how any deal could be pulled together by the end of the year.
“I think it’s a great idea, and we should talk about it,” said Rigas, who said he would speak with school board President Julie Ann Geldner regarding a possible joint board meeting.
District 90 Superintendent Thomas Hagerman said that he had not been formally contacted by village officials, but said such funding would help the district with a variety of space and programming challenges, and said he “absolutely” looked forward to sitting down with village officials.
“Obviously we’re very interested in working with the village on what the concept might look like,” Hagerman said.