Elgin waiting on Sears incentives

Elgin City Council members voted to table approval of an economic incentive agreement with Sears Holdings Corp. Wednesday night.

They plan to put off a vote for final approval until after a policy discussion concerning similar incentives that will take place next week.

Councilman Tish Powell suggested the council delay a proposed plan that called for up to $66,000 in incentives for hiring well-paid employees plus a reimbursement of up to $24,000 in permit fees.

Sears already has purchased land, signed a lease and invested time and money in what is supposed to become a photography and digital asset management studio.

The agreement, though similar to those other major corporations have received in the past, has become controversial on the council.

“I think we really need to be on the same page when we’re doing these things,” Powell said.

At the May 11 committee of the whole meeting, councilmen John Prigge and Richard Dunne voted against the agreement. Prigge said approving the incentives would “lure” a company already located in the city.

“It sounds like we made the sale,” Prigge said. “I’m concerned about this item in terms of overselling ourselves.”

But Councilman John Steffen, who voted to approve the agreement at the committee of the whole meeting and cast the lone vote against the delay Wednesday, said Elgin made the sale because of the incentives.

Steffen said the city shouldn’t be changing course with Sears halfway through the process.

“Because of their need to work quickly to get this done they went ahead and paid permit fees and had a groundbreaking so it can be interpreted that they were already here,” Steffen said. “But the decision to come here was a result of the incentives they had already worked up with staff.”

Council members will discuss future policy directives for staff members to follow concerning economic incentive agreements at a council retreat next week. The Sears agreement will be discussed in the context of these future decisions and then brought up again at the June 8 meeting.