The River Forest village board spent 90 minutes Monday hashing out issues related to shutting down the Lake Street tax increment financing district. The discussion was roiled as usual by unresolved conflicts over contentions of hidden development agendas and the manner and timing in which new information is passed on to board members.
It appears the board is now likely to declare a surplus for the 2009 TIF budget year at its next board meeting Monday, Nov. 23.
Trustee Cathy Adduci said declaring a surplus for 2009 would both leave an adequate amount of money for development in 2010, and assure the fairest distribution of TIF funds to other taxing bodies.
“Of the three options, the best option is to declare the surplus,” she said.
Trustee Jim Winikates argued that declaring a surplus for 2009 was the best option because it returns the maximum amount of dollars to the village and other village taxing bodies, rather than waiting until 2010.
Under that scenario, he said, “We’ll still have approximately $5 million for economic development in 2010.”
Trustee Steve Dudek said the board was choosing expediency over prudence.
“The issue I have is, I believe we’re taking capital funds and putting them in the operating budget,” said Dudek, who added he has little faith in what he’s being told.
“I have no idea what’s going to turn up tomorrow because somebody didn’t realize something,” he said. “What type of advice are we getting that we don’t know until the last minute.”
Dudek and Trustee Steve Hoke also insisted the rest of the board was limiting the amount of TIF dollars available for development so as to preclude possible development within Town Center II, a contention over which several trustees expressed frustration and even a sense of insult.
Hoke alluded to comments made by architect and village Plan Commission Chairman Jerry Johnson in an early Monday executive session, that Lake and Lathrop was not a preferable location for the village to develop.
“We heard tonight in executive session that what we’ve been talking about in executive session isn’t going to work,” said Hoke, who called the village’s development planning “a train that’s been going in one direction.”
“I think we’ve exhausted the conversation,” said Trustee Susan Conti toward the end of the discussion.
Village President John Rigas, who said Monday that no decision has been made regarding where TIF development may take place in 2010, said in an e-mail Tuesday morning that he supports the use of declared surplus TIF funds for general operations.
“I believe as an elected official, my first responsibility is to the village. As such, declaration of a surplus provides needed funds to the village during a time of significant financial difficulty,” he said. “Further, the surplus provides the most equitable distribution to all the critical taxing bodies in River Forest.”
For the first time in public, village officials proposed to Dominican University officials Monday that it make some sort of payment for village services such as police and fire. The discussion came as trustees considered a request from Dominican to use the village’s bonding authority to let $16.2 million in bonds for debt consolidation.
Amy McCormack, Dominican’s senior vice president for finance, explained the bonds would be used to retire an $11 million bond issue and a $5.2 line of credit that expires Dec. 31. She said Dominican would pay all expenses related to the bonds and all principal and interest, with no obligation to the village.
Trustee Steve Dudek used the occasion to question McCormack regarding the university’s willingness to discuss possible payment for the services. McCormack said she would “look around and do some research on what other universities are doing.”
“I think we would be open to all sorts of conversation,” she said.
Dominican President Donna Carroll noted the school “already brings value to the community,” including through child care and free access to its library system. She called the proposed discussion “an opportunity to more fully understand what that exchange is.”
Trustee Michael Gibbs said any such discussion should include Concordia University as well, saying, “With so many tax exempt properties in town, I’d like to get both universities involved in a sit down chat.”
Trustee Steve Hoke, a member of the board’s finance committee who also serves on the Citizen Advisory Committee, said there is a “surprising level of support” for such a payment agreement by members of the committee and called such a development “inevitable.”
Trustee Susan Conti said the discussion was “valuable but premature” and suggested it be formally scheduled. Trustee Cathy Adduci agreed.