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Article updated: 3/11/2013 5:36 PM

Warrenville candidates weigh in on TIF proposal

By Robert Sanchez

With its mix of retail, residential and office uses, Warrenville's Cantera development stands as the example of what city officials would like to repeat in other parts of town.

But will implementing another tax increment financing district -- similar to the one that fueled Cantera's transformation -- help rejuvenate the Civic Center near Butterfield and Batavia roads and the Old Town section near the confluence of Warrenville, Batavia and River roads?

One aldermanic hopeful says he's not yet convinced.

"I like the TIF (idea) but have a healthy skepticism," said Scott Allen, who is facing another newcomer, Kathryn Davolos, for the Ward 3 seat on the city council. "There can be a danger in thinking that because this worked last time, it's going to work again."

Allen and Davolos both cited the proposed TIF district as their top issue because it would be located within Ward 3.

In a TIF district, property tax payments to local governments would be frozen for up to 23 years. Any extra property tax money collected within the area after the date the district is established goes into a special fund controlled by the city. The money in the fund then can be used to help pay for certain improvements, such as roads and other infrastructure.

If approved this May, the TIF district will be a useful tool to make redevelopment of the Civic Center and the Old Town a reality, city officials have said.

"A TIF plan can support the city's realizing these plans without excess taxes on the taxpayers," Davolos wrote in a candidate questionnaire.

Davolos said the process requires elected officers "to provide oversight and, more importantly, to inform citizens of TIF activities while making every effort to gain citizen input, especially from residents and business located in the TIF area."

If elected to the city council on April 9, Allen said he would try to make sure the TIF district is implemented properly.

"The TIF is great for our ward," Allen said. "But it's a one-time shot. If we don't do it right, instead of having shiny new buildings, we'll have shiny new vacant buildings."

Allen points out some significant differences between the proposed TIF and the one that aided redevelopment of a former quarry into Cantera.

All the land for Cantera was purchased by one developer who "took all the risk" for the project, Allen said. The proposed TIF would have multiple properties in very different locations.

The city already has "absorbed some risk" by acquiring five separate properties in the proposed TIF district, Allen said.

One of those properties has become an issue in the race to fill Warrenville's Ward 4 aldermanic seat.

Tom Linford, who is hoping to defeat incumbent Clare Barry and challenger Thomas Sherlock, says he didn't agree with the city borrowing $2.2 million from its water and sewer capital fund to acquire the former Musselman Lumber site along Manning Avenue next to the library.

After buying the site in 2006, the city demolished a warehouse that once stood there. Now it's working with the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency to clean up the site.

Linford said Warrenville is required by state law to have a plan repay the $2.2 million. But he says there is no plan.

Barry, though, says the city eventually will get the $2.2 million back when the land is purchased by a developer. Since borrowing the money, Warrenville has been making annual payments to the capital fund equal to the amount of interest the $2.2 million would have earned, she said.

Meanwhile, Barry said, the Musselman property will be ready for redevelopment when the economy improves.

"We're prepared," she said, "and that's what we want to be."

When asked about the proposed TIF district, Sherlock on Monday said he would agree with the plan if Old Town weren't part of it.

"I think the TIF is too large at this point," he said. "Instead of taking such a big bite, they should focus on the (Civic) Center."

In the meantime, Allen says it's unclear when any redevelopment may happen.

"You're going into debt, and you're hoping that you're going to get a payback in the future," he said. "We're stepping it up quite a bit on level of difficulty with the (proposed) TIF. It just gets me nervous."

A public hearing on the TIF district proposal is scheduled for 6 p.m. April 15 at city hall, 28W701 Stafford Place.

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