District 300 launches assault on Sears tax break extension

District and community leaders in Carpentersville-based Community Unit District 300 have stepped up their fight against an amendment to a Senate bill that would extend a tax break for Sears Holdings Corp. in Hoffman Estates for 15 years.

The Sears Economic Development Area will expire in 2012. But an amendment to Senate Bill 540 would add 15 years to the agreement and take an estimated $14 million a year in property taxes out of the district's hands. A vote on Senate Bill 540 is expected during the October veto session.

To ward off passage of the bill — Amendment 3 in particular — school district and community leaders have sent out a call to action through several forums to communicate their message and drum up support.

A volunteer-based group, Advance 300, has created a website and Facebook page where people can stay informed about the issue and sign an online petition opposing the extension.

“This is a really complicated issue, and it has taken me a few weeks to grasp all of the concepts, but we need to explain the issue to people so that they understand,” said Kathleen Burley, a District 300 parent. “We want to let everyone know that we need to be heard. All of the different venues are needed so that we can appeal to everybody.”

The district also has organized a communitywide rally for 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 13, at Jacobs High School, 2601 Bunker Hill Drive, Algonquin.

District 300 Superintendent Michael Bregy said district residents need to understand how the incentive will affect their children's education and the community as a whole. The Sears development at Prairie Stone, including the Sears Centre Arena, lies within a narrow sliver of District 300. But no students or District 300 voters live within the area, Bregy said.

“I want the community to know that our request is reasonable,” he said. “There needs to be a win-win situation for the district and Sears. We understand that Sears employees have kids in our district and that they are friends and neighbors of the district. There needs to be a deal.”

Bregy met Thursday with Cullerton in Chicago to discuss the Senate bill. Sears CEO and President Louis D'Ambrosio wrote Bregy Tuesday saying his team would meet with all parties at the “appropriate time.” He indicated Sen. Pam Althoff would broker a sitdown with Hoffman Estates and District 300 officials.

“These are the key players who have the leverage to speak to people who have the authority to pull the amendment from the bill,” Bregy said. “We have no problem with the language of Senate Bill 540 overall ... it is Amendment 3 that hurts us.”

The economic development agreement was created to help keep Sears in Illinois and relocate its headquarters from the Sears Tower in Chicago to the Prairie Stone Corporate Business Park near Interstate 90 and Route 59 in Hoffman Estates. The EDA redirects a majority of property taxes, which are typically paid to taxing bodies like school districts, back to Sears to use for development and debt repayments. About 25 percent of the property taxes have been distributed among taxing bodies for the past 22 years.

“The EDA exists in order for the Village of Hoffman Estates to promote and maintain the park and attract and retain businesses to Hoffman Estates for the benefit of all taxing jurisdictions,” Sears spokesman Chris Braithwaite said in a written statement. “Without the original EDA, Sears would never have located here and taxing jurisdictions would not have received the millions of additional revenues they have seen as a result. An extension of the EDA will allow for the continued development of the land, which since its inception, has resulted in over 9,000 jobs coming to Hoffman Estates.

“The passage of the extension of the EDA, as part of a larger package, is absolutely necessary for Illinois to be competitive. Without the extension, Sears, as well as businesses who might look to locate at the park along with us, will undoubtedly find other states' job relocation proposals even more attractive.”

Arthur Janura, corporation counsel for Hoffman Estates, said all units of government need to put in their best efforts to retain Sears, and the economic development area is one way Hoffman Estates is trying to entice the company to stay. Sears executives have received offers of financial incentives from several states, including Texas and Ohio, and visited a pair of them. Neither those states nor Sears would disclose details.

“If they leave, we would lose a large payroll and the building out there could become vacant, which would take away a large portion of the property taxes,” Janura said. “Ancillary losses would be the Marriott Hotel located near the arena ... The economic impact would be draconian.”

But with recent chatter about Sears possibly leaving Illinois, Bregy said it's time for the agreement to expire.

“Sears does better with the EDA,” Bregy said. “It will make it easier for Sears to sell the land because the EDA goes with the property. In this economy, that's the only way they are going to sell that land.”

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