Oak Park finally released its annual TIF (tax increment financing) report for 2008. Never mind that Illinois law requires the reports be completed within 180 days after the end of the fiscal year. Oak Park routinely flouts that law.
The TIF financial reports might bore many, and understandably so, but when one looks at the details of the reports, one will find that Oak Park is on a disastrous path to financial ruin. There are many interesting facts found in the 2008 TIF report.
1. Downtown Oak Park received $328,936 in TIF funds in 2008 and $532,500 in 2007 for “marketing services.” But what are they marketing and to whom?
2. Whiteco received $500,000 in TIF funds in 2008, and they are estimated to pay only $551,359 in real estate taxes for 2008, according to the township assessor’s office. Whiteco promised Oak Park millions in tax revenues, but who could have known that they would get most of the tax revenue back from the TIF?
3. Erica Cuneen received $35,000 for a “retail support grant – direct” and Gary Cuneen contributed to David Pope’s political campaign according to the Illinois State Board of Elections. There is no doubt that the grant and contribution were legal, but President Pope should have excused himself from voting on the matter.
4. Oak Park paid $10,000 each to Avalon Bay Communities and Mid-America Development Partners for “RFQ costs.” If you remember, these were the two companies that were asking for millions in taxpayer subsidies to build in Oak Park. Well, they got some taxpayer subsidies and they did not even need to contribute to the tax base.
5. Oak Park spent over $3.6 million on debt financing in 2008.
6. In 2008, the downtown TIF fund had a deficit of $21.3 million, which is a 55.5 percent increase over 2007. It is obvious that the village board does not “understand the economics” of Whiteco- and Sertus-type developments.
It is little wonder why District 200 is suing Oak Park when one considers the village board’s mismanagement of the TIF fund, coupled with its deficient accounting practices. The TIF was designed to remove blight from communities; however, the TIF seems to be contributing to the blight. Despite Downtown Oak Park’s use of TIF money for “marketing services” and the village board’s insatiable desire for high-rise developments that are supposed to be catalysts for revitalization, local stores continue to close and retail space remains vacant, even at Whiteco. All Oak Park taxpayers will be financially responsible for this debt when the TIF expires, which could exceed $100 million based on current spending patterns by the board. One needs to ask how much property taxes will increase to pay off this debt.
The TIF has failed to deliver the increased taxes that it promised to the schools, libraries, parks and community. It is time to eliminate the TIF and hold the village board accountable for its financial ineptitude.
David Barsotti is 13-year resident of Oak Park and a professional information technology project manager with a background in economics.