Why District 214 might hire a lobbyist over proposed change to taxing authority for Bears project

Northwest Suburban High School District 214 board members aim to hire a lobbyist next week to represent the district's interests in Springfield amid legislation that might curb public schools' taxing authority over any new development by the Chicago Bears at Arlington Park.

They hope to have Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 and Palatine Township Elementary District 15 on board, too, by the Feb. 9 District 214 meeting to be able to present a united front to state legislators.

District 214 board President William "Bill" Dussling, however, emphasized that the district is not looking for a fight or to generate opposition to the Bears' pending purchase of the Arlington Park site for a new stadium as an economic development effort.

"We're going to do what we have to do for our students and the district," Dussling said at a special board meeting Thursday. "We are not drawing a line in the sand. We want to have a consensus. We want to join hands and get through this thing."

The board was responding to a still-evolving bill that would allow Illinois developers of "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 the system, the 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 bill would create a system for qualifying projects that would initially last 23 years but could be extended to 40 if the municipality argued for its "substantial public benefit."

"That's a very low bar," District 214 attorney Ares Dalianis told the board. "This is effectively a 40-year incentive. Right now, you are on the outside looking in. That's not a good place to be with a 40-year consequence to it."

Among the unknowns is whether the proposed system would apply to the entire 326-acre property or only to the stadium itself while the mixed-use development outside it would be handled with a property tax-diverting tax-increment finance district or some other more traditional incentive, he said.

Thursday's meeting was the first for District 214's new Co-Interim Superintendent Kenneth Arndt, who described his earlier struggles as leader of Algonquin-based Community Unit District 300 with the tax breaks Sears had received for its headquarters in Hoffman Estates.

"I've seen how poorly developed legislation hurts school districts," he said.

District 15 Superintendent Laurie Heinz last fall expressed concern about a TIF district within any new Bears development, where property tax money above a certain point would be diverted into the development and away from local governments. She said the district would need tax money to serve new residents, and she wanted the district to be part of discussions.

District 214's previous superintendent, David Schuler, was more open to a TIF at the time.

Arndt, now serving as superintendent along with Laz Lopez, described his personal enthusiasm for the Bears project in general but cautioned against any lack of vigilance that could cause District 214 as well as districts 211 and 15 to be put in a disadvantage.

"Please let the school districts have a voice at the table," Arndt said.

Tax help for 'mega project'? The team has a diehard fan

William Dussling
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