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updated: 11/12/2012 6:02 PM

Elgin council turns to Riverboat, TIF funds in budget talks

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Elgin City Council members will discuss the Riverboat and TIF funds Wednesday as part of their ongoing budget talks.

The Riverboat and Riverboat Lease funds refer to money collected from the Grand Victoria Casino through a $1 tax per patron and rent of the casino property, which the city owns.

The city is budgeting $13.6 million in Riverboat revenue for 2013 -- a far cry from the $26.8 million budgeted in 2008.

In a Tax Increment Financing District, the value of property is frozen for a period of years, as far as taxing bodies are concerned, and taxes collected on the increase in value of those properties is diverted to make public improvements in the area.

The Central Area TIF district is the city's most successful one, though it has suffered in recent years because of falling property values, according to Assistant City Manager Rick Kozal. Revenues in the Central Area TIF are expected to be $19.27 million.

Like its decisions regarding the general fund, the city council will have an easier time choosing what to do with the Riverboat and TIF revenues during this budget cycle, as compared to last year.

"The city council took the major policy initiatives last year with the 2012 budget," Kozal said, "2013 is a continuation of these policies and it's focusing on maintenance, on core needs and not the expansion of any type of governmental programs."

The proposed Riverboat fund budget includes a continuation of grants established last year for nonprofit and social service agencies -- $250,000 -- and arts organizations -- $50,000. A variety of city grant programs, including those for home and business restoration and neighborhood projects, also are funded by the taxes collected from the casino.

In 2013, the Elgin Image Commission is recommending spending $110,000 on five signs to welcome people into Elgin -- paying for that project would happen through the Riverboat fund.

The budget also includes continued payments of $275,000 per year to the Elgin Area Chamber of Commerce.

The Riverboat fund budget sets aside $50,000 for improvements to the city council chambers -- planned because of the addition of two new council members after the 2013 local election.

Depending on decisions by council members, the TIF fund could pay for further phases of the streetscape beautification program, engineering services in a plan to construct a hydroelectric dam at the Kimball Street bridge and a $135,000 contract with the Downtown Neighborhood Association, which was paid for through the TIF fund for the first time last year.

Kozal said city staffers are not recommending extra streetscape phases for next year, instead encouraging the council to save up for "big ticket" purchases like bridge maintenance and replacement in future years.

The council will begin its budget discussion at 5 p.m. Wednesday at City Hall, 150 Dexter Court.

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