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Article updated: 1/29/2013 9:43 PM

Wheeling mayoral candidates debate use of TIF districts

By Deborah Donovan

Wheeling's five tax increment financing districts promise to be an issue in the April mayoral election, in which former trustee Pat Horcher and Trustee Dean Argiris are challenging incumbent Judy Abruscato.

The candidates met with the Daily Herald this week, when they offered differing ideas on the use of TIF districts and their potential as economic development tool for the village.

TIF districts work by capturing additional tax revenues that result from increased property values caused by development. Those additional revenues can be used to help fund further development or reimburse developers for improvements made in the district.

Horcher said that while he believes TIF districts are "a great tool," the village uses them too much.

"We have five TIFs from Lake-Cook Road and Milwaukee Avenue almost to Palatine Road and east to (the former Kmart property at Dundee and Elmhurst roads)," he said. "It encompasses most of the commercial frontage in our town."

Horcher noted that TIF districts keep tax revenues from other governments that run schools, parks and libraries. He maintains the village board should review the districts annually and distribute unneeded funds to the those taxing bodies.

Abruscato said the village board's use of TIF district funds has enhanced the community. She voted for all the projects funded by Wheeling TIF districts except Prairie Park, a condominium community that has received more than $11 million in funding. In that case, she recused herself because for several years the project was funded by the bank where she is employed.

While Abruscato agrees with the way TIF district dollars have been spent, she said, "Going forward I would like to see TIF dollars being used in the development of additional mixed use projects," rather than housing alone.

Horcher said TIF districts should be used for commercial and industrial projects because they pay more property taxes than homes.

Argiris outlined benefits of each TIF district, including Prairie Park, which he said had been 24 acres of swampland before redevelopment. The area where the Westin hotel now stands on Milwaukee Avenue was a horse stable without water service, he added.

The TIF district with the Fresh Fields development at Dundee Road and Milwaukee Avenue put some tax-free property back on the rolls, and it was important to have a TIF district to develop land by Chicago Executive Airport, he said.

However, Argiris said it is time to analyze the TIF districts to be sure the village is handling each properly.

"We haven't done one TIF incentive to a venture that's failed. It's good housing, developments and jobs and is important to the community," he said.

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