Editorial: Listen to agencies that would feel consequences of Hoffman Estates development

  • Representatives at a joint review board meeting this week discuss the potential impact of a proposed development near Hoffman Estates.

      Representatives at a joint review board meeting this week discuss the potential impact of a proposed development near Hoffman Estates. Eric Peterson | Staff Photographer

 
The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Posted3/23/2017 6:31 PM

The acronym TIF refers to a conversation-stopping tax strategy that is not easy to understand but can have direct consequences for communities, schools, parks, libraries and taxpayers. In the best of circumstances, it can help a community encourage development in struggling parts of town. In the worst, it can suck resources away from the agencies and institutions people count on.

A proposed 184-acre TIF district in western Hoffman Estates qualifies as the latter, and adds insult to injury by potentially increasing demands on local resources, schools in particular, while simultaneously taking resources away from them.

 

So, it's not hard to understand why nearly every affected agency took a stand this week in opposition to providing the incentive to a proposed residential and commercial development near routes 72 and 59. In a pair of votes, members of a joint review board overwhelmingly declared the project ineligible for a TIF designation on land the Hoffman Estates village board is considering annexing.

Most of the review board members had selfish reasons to be wary of the proposal. For up to the next 23 years, it would divert tax money away from them -- including, among others, Barrington Unit District 220, Community Unit District 300, the Barrington Area Library, Harper College, Elgin Community College, Barrington Township and the Barrington Hills Park District.

All in the interest of a project that -- if successful -- would bring businesses and residents to an area already bustling with restaurants, grocers and department stores.

Many nearby residents are naturally wary of any additional development there, but an even larger question looms. If developers are allowed to crowd the area further, should they get business incentives for it?

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The original intent of the TIF mechanism -- the letters standing for the term "Tax Increment Financing" -- was to give communities a means of building sales and, in the long term, property tax revenues from unproductive areas. The process restricts the use of increased tax revenues produced within certain boundaries to those areas. But over time, the standards for identifying unproductive -- or blighted -- areas have eroded, developers have practically come to consider them an expectation and towns have often embarked on risky projects that fail to perform. Meanwhile, more and more, taxing bodies whose costs are constantly escalating have found the areas they can count on for increased income dwindling.

In the case at routes 59 and 72, schools wouldn't merely see an opportunity for increased revenue slip away, they would also see the area getting their money produce more students for them to educate.

The joint review board's rejection is not the final word on the Hoffman Estates TIF. Within 30 days, the developer could modify its proposal and try again, or the Hoffman Estates village board could, by a supermajority, approve the project. But if the measure does resurface, the agencies most affected understand TIFs all too well, and they've spoken up loud and clear about the consequences of this one that worry them.

They ought to be listened to very carefully.

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