Geneva approves another TIF district, with dissent

In a series of three 7-3 votes at a special meeting Monday, the Geneva City Council approved the creation of a fourth tax increment financing district for 297 acres on the city’s east side — but not without dissent and some cutting comments.

Known as the Southeast Master Plan Redevelopment Area, the area is bounded by Route 38, Fabyan Parkway, the DuPage/Kane County border and Kirk Road.

A tax increment financing district is a development tool local governments use to encourage development or redevelopment in blighted areas that would be too expensive to improve with private dollars alone. It diverts increased sales or property taxes generated to pay for specific improvements within the district. A TIF can last up to 23 years.

The council was required to approve three ordinances to support creating the TIF, to support the project according to state law for redevelopment and to support increment financing.

Third Ward city council members Becky Hruby and Dean Kilburg and Fifth Ward Alderman Robert Swanson voted no. Hruby and Swanson disputed some of the legal findings required by state law to establish a TIF district — with Hruby’s comments eventually stirring the ire of other council members.

Hruby asked a letter from the Citizen Advocacy Center in Elmhurst be included in the meeting’s record. The letter, signed by Jack Bentley, the agency’s executive director, disputed that the city followed state law to approve the area for a tax increment financing district.

One of the conditions is that the area is prone to flooding, when “there is no evidence to support this assertion,” contrary to reports from consultants SB Friedman and V3, according to the letter.

“In conclusion, approval of this TIF District would show open disregard for state and local laws and a lack of care for your residents’ meaningful concerns,” according to Bentley’s letter. “Misuse of TIF can affect a local government’s ability to adequately fund its schools, parks, and other vital services — not only due to reappropriation of revenue, but also due to uncollected property tax revenue.”

Hruby asked for a response from Mayor Kevin Burns.

“Mr. Bentley’s letter, while very much welcome, is replete with tax increment financing tropes, wanting of any defensible accusations and bereft of the knowledge surrounding the school district, the library district, Waubonsee Community College District and the Joint Review Board’s unanimous vote creating and supporting this TIF,” Burns said.

“It is meritless and should be given no weight, granted no measure and allowed no impact in our consideration this evening,” Burns said.

Fifth Ward Alderman Craig Maladra took issue with the idea that the council would ignore state law to establish a TIF.

“It’s not like this agreement was put together by a bunch of amateurs,” Maladra said. “I believe that the city’s legal representatives have put in a great deal of time on this. I think they’ve been over it with a fine-toothed comb, knowing how careful they need to be.”

Establishing a tax increment financing district would allow the extension of Kautz Road, providing an easy path for trucks to get to Interstate 88, Maladra said.

First Ward Alderman Michael Bruno said to extend Kautz Road with its grade changes “is a crushingly expensive improvement to be made and I see the TIF is the only way that we can accomplish that.”

Hruby said she was surprised that Geneva School District 304′s representative supported the project, according to the vote by the Joint Review Board. The board, made up of local taxing districts, meets annually to review the progress and status of each TIF district.

But it is also an advisory panel that has to weigh in on the establishment of a new district, as required by law.

“People are using that (the Joint Review Board) as proof that the school’s on board,” Hruby said. “That does not necessarily mean that they’re on board. I think there are a lot of agendas going on and I believe that a lot of things I’ve heard tonight just sound naive to me.”

Hruby’s comments rubbed council members the wrong way.

“I do have an agenda — and that agenda is to make Geneva a better place for everybody who lives here,” Second Ward Alderman Bradley Kosirog said. “I trust the professionals that we have on our staff and the companies that we hire and their opinions. I am proud to support this.”

Second Ward Alderman Richard Marks said the effort to develop the east side for industrial use has been in the works since before he came on the council, 15 years ago.

“The Joint Review Board … they chose to vote yes,” Marks said. “They have to hold that up.”

Marks said he has also talked to people in Geneva who want to see this area developed to build up the tax base.

In an email, District 304 Superintendent Andy Barrett said the district staff reviewed the eligibility report and redevelopment plan for the proposed Southeast Master Plan. At the April 30 Joint Review Board meeting, the panel voted that the property met eligibility requirements and recommended the plan move forward.

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