Resident calls Bears tax break a 'stinker,' but Arlington Heights officials don't weigh in yet

Arlington Heights officials Monday declined to state a preference on pending state legislation that would give the Bears a massive property tax break at Arlington Park.

The so-called Payments in Lieu of Taxes legislation would place an assessment freeze of up to 40 years on the 326-acre property, and allow the Bears to make negotiated payments to local taxing bodies like school districts. Arlington Heights and Bears would do the negotiating, and the village would distribute the annual payments to the other local governments.

Donald Meersman, a resident who brought the topic up during the village board meeting Monday night, called the legislation "a stinker."

"I just received the biannual love note that I've been getting from the taxman for 42 years," said Meersman, holding up a copy of his recent tax bill. "I respectfully request your leadership on this policy for the next 40 years, although I probably won't be around for that long."

Mayor Tom Hayes said he couldn't comment on the bill, noting that its sponsor in the Senate, Democrat Ann Gillespie of Arlington Heights, introduced it to generate discussion among legislators and it's subject to changes.

When the PILOT concept surfaced in December - but before a bill had been introduced - Hayes said he was supportive of "creative ways" that might assist the team with financing issues and help make their suburban relocation a reality. He did stop short of fully endorsing the specific funding mechanism.

"I don't feel at this point we can really comment on it because we know it's not in it's final form," Hayes told Meersman Monday night. "It's something that we're not gonna vote on. It's in the hands of the state legislature."

Arlington Heights Trustee Mary Beth Canty - the newly elected Democratic state representative for the 54th District that includes Arlington Park - said in an interview after the meeting that the legislation was "putting the cart a little bit before the horse."

"I have two questions: How do we move the people around and then who's paying for it? And I feel like we spend a lot of time, especially in light of legislation that's been filed, talking about the 'Who's paying for it?' and we have spent precious little time figuring out how we move the people around," said Canty, who is serving out her trustee term that ends in May.

"Before I would do anything related to PILOT legislation, (tax increment financing) legislation or any other thought as to how does this get funded, I would want to see some more concrete things about the impact to the surrounding area - the roadways, the traffic, all of that," Canty said. "Because to me that's arguably more important. What is the point of funding the project if you don't even know if the project works for the area?"

Canty added that she has "serious" concerns about ingress and egress from the site and within it, as well as the impact on schools and waterways. The general redevelopment concept the Bears released last fall "begged a lot of questions for me," she said.

Since Canty was sworn in in Springfield in January, she hasn't had a formal meeting with the Bears, and they didn't ask her to sponsor the bill, she said. Fellow Arlington Heights Democrat Mark Walker, whose 53rd District borders the Bears' new property to the south, is the bill sponsor in the House.

Canty said both Walker and Gillespie want conversations to start, but they don't believe the legislation as filed is ready for a vote in either chamber.

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