After almost two years and $650,000 spent on lawyers, the Village of Oak Park and two local school districts were expected to resolve a long-running lawsuit related to the downtown TIF district on Tuesday (after press time).
Wednesday Journal first reported last week that village hall, Oak Park and River Forest High school and elementary school District 97, which have been mired in a legal battle since early 2010, are close to settling the court battle.
That information was confirmed Friday, when high school District 200, District 97 and the village released an agenda for a rare joint meeting Tuesday where the three sides planned to discuss a settlement.
What exactly the agreement says was uncertain as of Monday. The three sides declined to release details until after Tuesday’s meeting, citing exemptions in the Freedom of Information Act.
However, a source close to the negotiations said it was unlikely the settlement would end the TIF earlier than its planned expiration in 2018. That source also said that a revised TIF agreement between the three parties would be substantially simplified. All parties involved in this dispute have pointed both to the complexity but also to the vague wording of the 2003 agreement on payouts to the school districts.
Reached Friday evening, Village Manager Tom Barwin declined to give specifics of the settlement, and he could not say, for sure, whether the agreement would get the green light on Tuesday.
“This has had so many twists and turns, I think we’re all just wise to wait and see what happens,” he said. “I wouldn’t make any predictions.”
When asked whether District 97 was expected to attend, board President Peter Barber pointed Wednesday Journal to the schools’ website to read their meeting agenda.
“Whatever is on that website, that’s what I can tell you. I’ll see you on Tuesday,” he said.
Dee Millard, the head of the District 200 board, and Superintendent Steve Isoye did not return messages left on Friday.
The meeting was slated for Tuesday night Percy Julian Middle School, 416 S. Ridgeland Ave. It was expected to include statements from all sides, a “tri-board” discussion and resolution authorizing the settlement, according to the agenda.
The lawsuit revolves around how much village hall owes Oak Park and River Forest High School from its disputed downtown tax increment financing district, which siphons off property tax dollars from the area for use in economic development. As of June, the high school was seeking more than $2 million from the village.
This February would mark two years since the high school first sued village hall. District 97 was added as a defendant more recently, as it had also signed on to the 2003 agreement that spelled out future payments from the TIF to the schools and other village agencies.
Part of the dispute has stemmed from the complicated nature of that 2003 pact. But one source who has been involved in the discussions said Monday that the agreement going forward is “much simpler” than the previous one.
“That was one of the problems with the 2003 agreement that led to the misunderstandings,” said the source, who didn’t believe that the TIF would end because of the settlement.
Wednesday Journal reported in November that the three sides had tallied nearly $650,000 in legal bills in the dispute, including some $20,000 for a $500-an-hour mediator the parties have been seeing outside of court.