In the four years since the River Forest committed $1.9 million from its Central Business District Tax Increment Financing District to redevelop contaminated property at the southwest corner of Lake and Lathrop, no taxing districts within the village have disagreed with the use of the funds or asked for its share of that money.
That is, until now.
River Forest Elementary School District 90 has told the village it wants its share — as much as $800,000 — from that redevelopment fund. District 90, which is sitting on reserves totaling $22.5 million in its education fund, has never questioned the use of the funds or sought that they be dispersed before now, village officials said.
The school district’s demand comes at a time when it is mulling a response to the village board’s decision to impose conditions on the school district’s application for the Roosevelt Middle School exterior project, which trustees approved in February. A deadline for District 90 to file an appeal is near the end of May. A decision on the school board’s next steps will be made May 4.
The issue related to the TIF funds and the district’s application are unrelated, said Ed Condon said, District 90’s superintendent, a statement that the village vehemently disputes.
But why now, asked Village President Catherine Adduci, about the school district’s demand.
“The redevelopment of Lake and Lathrop has been a high priority for the board and for the community,” Adduci said. “The village has been working diligently to address the contamination and potential redevelopment there. The existing contract with Keystone Ventures and the $1.9 million in TIF funds will help us address this critical issue.”
There are specific stipulations in the TIF law that the village has the responsibility to disburse funds after a length of time to other taxing districts and “it’s my understanding that it’s been substantially exceeded,” said Condon.
“As you are aware, any remaining funds in an expired TIF district are to be paid … proportionally to the taxing districts. To date, the district has not received a distribution of the surplus TIF funds from the above-expired TIF districts,” Condon said in his letter to Village Administrator Eric Palm dated April 6.
In the event that an intergovernmental agreement or some other contractual document governs the distribution of surplus TIF funds from the expired TIF districts, the district asked for copies of applicable agreements and documents, the letter states.
The school district would review the information and discern if it would have any impact on the district at present. Condon would not say if that included taking the village to court over this issue.
Documents sent on to the school district include agreements between the village and Mid-America Real Estate on the village’s commitment to Town Centers I and II, dated December 2010 and March 2013.
The original agreement and two amendments to a contract on the commitment of TIF funds for redevelopment project costs at Lake and Lathrop also were sent to the district, according to the response Palm sent to Condon.
Letters and documents related to the request were obtained by Wednesday Journal through a Freedom of Information Act request.
The TIF district expired in 2010. Over its life, the school district received $10.4 million both in proceeds and surplus distribution between 1995 and 2010, Palm said.
Before it closed, Keystone Ventures was tapped to redevelop the site at Lake Street and Lathrop Avenue. Keystone, owned by River Forest resident Tim Hague, as part of that agreement would buy the property, clean up the site and offer incentives to bring in tenants.
Since the time that the agreement between the village and Hague was inked, taxing districts have been kept apprised of the progress. The heads of all taxing districts meet monthly, and Palm provides a status update on the Lake and Lathrop effort when there’s something to apprise them on.
The last update was around December-January after the village board voted to continue the agreement for another year, Palm said. He also told them that the village would look at other options. Trustees recently authorized Kane McKenna to conduct a feasibility study on that effort.
“There’s not too much to talk about,” Palm said. “It’s never been objected to, no one questioned it or voiced concerns, and no one has brought anything to my attention.”
Cleanup of the location, 7613 Lake St., has been a high priority as well, and without the money, the property cannot be properly redeveloped. It has been contaminated with carcinogenic dry-cleaning chemicals. That site has been a dry cleaner since 1922, according to John Kennelly, the attorney for Edward Ditchfield, who owns the site.
“The contamination of this property and its owner has been a topic at our board table for a while. And, all of the taxing bodies have been apprised of these challenges and how the village is working to address it,” Adduci said.
Condon said the issue of Lake/Lathrop had been on their minds since February when an update on the area had been provided by Wednesday Journal, but there were “numerous things going on in the district that prevented us from addressing all of the things and timelines we’d wished,” he said.
The newspaper article referred to by Condon principally related to development at Lake and Park. The only update provided on Lake and Lathrop in that story was that the redevelopment agreement with Hague had been extended.
“All of our taxing bodies know the long-term benefit of a TIF redevelopment effort for their taxing body, which is an increase in assessed values and new property tax revenue,” Adduci said.