Editorial: Taxpayers will take hit for lack of compromise
So much for hope that cooler heads would prevail in the four-month dispute between the village of Mount Prospect and Northwest Suburban High School District 214.
Officials confirmed last week that attempts to reach a compromise and end the lawsuit filed in June by District 214 over Mount Prospect's new tax increment financing district -- commonly known as a TIF -- have hit an "impasse." What that means is tax dollars that would otherwise fund educational and municipal services will be spent on lawyers billing by the hour and other assorted costs as this issue drags through the court calendar.
Taxpayers lose in this failure of intergovernmental cooperation.
When the suit was filed, we used this space to express concerns about this issue. We urged both governments serving the same taxpayers to find middle ground that would address each side's concerns and keep this matter out of court. We asked whether the matter was so tough that a judge has to get involved. What we now have is village officials saying settlement discussions have not been productive and District 214 arguing that the village delayed in responding to a proposal, then later backed out when it appeared an agreement was at hand.
At issue is the village's decision in January to approve a new downtown tax increment financing district that could last until 2040. Within those borders are properties that had been included in a previous TIF district established in 1985 and which expired last fall. When properties are included in a TIF district, property taxes are frozen, meaning any potential increase in tax money through new development does not make its way to the school district -- or other taxing bodies -- for the length of the TIF term. Instead, they are redirected back into the area for economic development efforts.
District 214 complains the village's new TIF covers much of the same downtown area as the recently retired district, and it opposes the measure because it prevents the school district from receiving property tax revenue generated by new development. The village argues the new TIF is needed to address lagging property values and growth downtown.
Since the lawsuit was filed, the two sides have been meeting and traded counterproposals that each has deemed unacceptable. It's hard to know which side is most at fault for this failure, but both sides must share some of the blame.
We get that the protracted state budget crisis has injured local government and school funding, and that it has created an air of uncertainty about the future. But that's no excuse for officials failing to reach an agreement that's fair to everyone.
It's clear the combatants in this financial dispute are looking out for themselves, but the irony is that as a result of their failure to compromise, it will be up to a court, not elected officials, to represent taxpayers' interests.