Village Leaders Explain Proposed TIF to District 67 School Board
Parents turn out in force to discuss future of local education, financial remedies.
The board room at Golf Middle School was brimming. Concerned parents and community members were packed in to hear about the future of the district, which has recently run into financial trouble and is considering a plan to consolidate its two schools, Golf and Hynes Elementary.
At the center of the Village of Morton Grove's plan is a complex economic program called Tax Increment Financing, or TIF. It is a way for communities to earmark funds for large-scale projects.
Further details and reactions on TIF plan
The hope is that an auto dealership will buy Golf Middle School, and two things will happen: 1) The area will increase in value, drawing more business; 2) property owners who fall within the TIF property will pay into a fund for school renovations.
"It helps 67 restructure its operations," said Village Adminsitrator Joe Wade. "While this deal may seem a little bit complicated, it is not uncommon. This is a real opportunity that's within our grasp."
Wade projected that the auto dealership would bring in $500,000 per year in sales tax and $300,000 a year in property tax.
But some residents walked away wanting more information about the plan village administrators hope will rejuvenate the district's ailing fiscal health.
"As a senior citizen, I find it very complicated," said Carole Howe, whose children used to attend school in the Golf District. She's lived in the district for 35 years.
Howe's friend Maxine Huff said, "If I have questions, and trust me I will, I plan on calling them and asking them to explain in verbiage a common person can understand."
Howe added, "I think a lot of this has already been decided."
TIF does not mean free dollars. Ultimately, there would be an impact on taxpayers.
Proponents, however, say it's a vehicle for getting large-scale projects done—like an $18 million school renovation.
It's a way to make "short-term investments for long-term benefits in the future," said John Said, Morton Grove's director of community and economic development. "We have seen this [growth] in our other TIF districts. They have generated significant increase in property value."
Said detailed several benefits to TIFs:
- Provides income sources for big projects.
- Maintains local control.
- Increases property values.
- It is a way to share revenue.
But when board member Ashwini Kumar asked about the downside of TIF, Said was hesitant. He brought up that there would be a brief lag in tax collection because the program is incremental, and then followed with a counterargument that the delayed money will be reinvested in the community by way of the TIF.
More questions, less time
There was a clamor of questions. At one point, District 67 Supt. Jamie Reilly had to pause the meeting to remind people there was a designated time at the end to air concerns and questions.
There's not a lot of time, however, for doubts.
Wight and Company, an architectural firm hired to design additions to Hynes Elementary, presented its findings at the meeting. The renovations would include spaces for both the elementary and middle schools with a capacity of up to 600 students.
"This is a feasibility study, so nothing is set in stone," said Leanne Meyer-Smith, a senior project manager for the firm. "But we really need to get started right now."
The rush is because of the time it takes to obtain necessary permits for construction. It also hinges on a strict plan to get the project started by the 2011 fall semester and completed by summer 2012 so students can transition into Hynes without any displacement.
"It's a very aggressive schedule, but we don't want to miss out on this opportunity," Meyer-Smith said.
Some community members wanted more than good intentions.
"My understanding throughout my life is that none of these thing go exactly according to schedule," Gina Musielski said. "What's our backup plan? Is there a clause that says, 'not until our school is completed' so our kids don't have to be in limbo?"
There is much to be done, which begins with the school district seeing if the village is behind the TIF. To that end, the board is planning a series of community forums to answer questions and gague community support.
"Communication is going to be a huge part of success in rallying the community," said John Frake, who has had children in the district for 15 years. He called it an "exciting plan" but said he was interested in finding out more.
"We have to publicize the heck out of this so we can always say people had an opportunity to find out all the facts," Frake said.
There are also others outside the township who need convincing.
"We can walk out this room and say this is a wonderful plan, but we need a lot of cooperation to make this thing fly," said Village Trustee Shel Marcus, who also served on Golf's board of education 30 years ago. "There are a lot of people not involved with District 67 who are necessary, and we need to convince them as well."
In other business, the board unanimously approved:
- Shortening the school day for 4-year-old preschoolers from a full day to a half-day
- Policy changes to keep up with state requirements
- The 2011-2012 calendar