A united lobbying front: District 214 hopes to partner with 211, 15 over potential tax breaks

Northwest Suburban High School District 214 officials hope they can partner with two neighboring school districts if they hire a lobbyist Thursday to address controversial state legislation that could change their taxing authority for the proposed Bears project at Arlington Park.

A day earlier, attorney Ares Dalianis is scheduled to present the Palatine Township Elementary District 15 board an update on the Bears project and the new "mega projects" legislation similar to what he shared with District 214's board this week.

The other potential partner District 214 seeks is Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211.

"We continue to engage in ongoing conversations with the village of Arlington Heights and other taxing bodies and are aware of District 214's discussion," District 211 Director of Communications Erin Holmes said Friday. "We have not had an opportunity to further discuss this issue at this point."

In his earlier presentation to District 214, Dalianis spoke of the number of unknowns that remain about both the Bears project itself and the evolving "mega projects" legislation.

He added that his firm already is doing research to find qualified lobbyist candidates.

"You need to be prepared now for when the action happens," Dalianis advised.

The newly introduced state bill would enable "mega projects" - those worth at least $500 million - to make negotiated payments to local taxing bodies instead of the full amount of property taxes.

The proposed Payments in Lieu of Taxes, or PILOT, financing mechanism has been used in 35 other states, but mostly as an incentive for such developments as large electric vehicle plants, battery factories and other manufacturers.

Under this mechanism, a municipality - in this case Arlington Heights - would negotiate a special payment that would be distributed to the taxing bodies in the same proportion as the higher property taxes it would replace.

The measure would create a system for qualifying projects that initially would last 23 years but could be extended to 40, if the municipality argued for its "substantial public benefit."

District 214's new co-interim superintendent, Kenneth Arndt, said if the law ends up hurting the school districts it affects, it's going to hurt for a long time.

He spoke of his experience as the former superintendent of Algonquin-based Community Unit District 300 in dealing with the tax breaks Sears received in the early 1990s for its former campus in Hoffman Estates.

When a District 214 board member asked whether there were any success stories among the mega projects envisioned by the legislation, Dalianis said it's new territory for Illinois law and that he knew of no cases in other states of its being used for anything like what the Bears are planning.

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