Crystal Lake Council Approves Main Street TIF Without Dissent

As I entered city hall shortly before 7:30 PM, the nearby train crossing gates were down. The bell was ringing.

The Metra train was on the track. It had just left the station.

At 8:53, three motions were made within two minutes and the Main Street TIF train went speeding 23 years into the future, with all seven cylinders pumping mightily. It reminded me of the train scenes in “Back to the Future, Part III.”

It was like watching all the council members singing “Kum Bi Ya” around a campfire. The happy campers were toasting taxpayers, no, I mean, marshmallows.

Tent leader Aaron Shepley said the marshmallows wouldn’t get even the tiniest bit brown. Other campers admitted that they would get a little bit brown, but after the S’moors were eaten, even the marshmallows’ grandchildren would be happy.

While admitting, “the tax shift is real,” Councilman Dave Goss said that it would cost less than $5 per year on a $200,000 home. But, he pointed out, the “cumulative effect” was revenue neutral. He said that the loss in tax base was 1% for the four tax districts. He considered that “an investment in the future.” Goss did mention that TIF districts don’t have to last 23 years. At the end of the discussion, he made the necessary motions for approval.

Councilwoman Ellen Brady Mueller said the least, speaking after Goss: “I don’t think I could add anything.”

Ralph Dawson candidly admitted to not understanding all the numbers. “Using the Downtown TIF as my benchmark,” he said, “part of our job is to look to the future. Are there winners and losers? Of course.

“I have to be supportive of this 100% because I believe my grandchildren somewhere down the line will benefit from this,” the North side councilman said.

Councilman Howie Christensen explained that this TIF, “in particular, we have not taken…lightly.”

He noted, “Both arguments are getting reasonable, rather than being sensational, pro or con.

“Having seen the history of what happened Downtown, I would be remiss if I ignored it.”

Christensen characterized the property tax shift as “extremely minor.”

“I think this council will jealously guard the funds to make sure it doesn’t benefit any private enterprise,” he observed, perhaps replying to Cal Skinner’s earlier observation that taxes might well be increased on homeowners and business with the proceeds going to subsidize the renovation of the old Oak Manufacturing building.

“This is not a decision that just came in the last couple of months,” Councilwoman Kathy Ferguson explained. “There has been lots of discussion,” including the council’s deciding not to combine it with the current Downtown TIF and extend that expanded district’s life beyond the original 23 years.

“I think (putting the Downtown TIF back on the tax rolls) balances” taking the growth in the new TIFs off the tax rolls, she continued.

“We’re not asking you to do anything we’re not willing to do,” Ferguson said in reference to the increase in taxes that everyone outside of the TIF district will pay.

“Id like to echo the tax neutrality (argument) Dave made, “ Councilman Jeff Thorsen added. “I’m really excited about the opportunity this will afford the city.”

Finally, Mayor Aaron Shepley said, “I think there has been a lot of misconceptions about TIF districts in general. I had some pretty intense disagreements (with opponents). My immediate irrational response was that it was false,” he said of the leaflet that was put on his porch the Saturday before Halloween. The leaflet was entitled, “Mayor Shepley, City Council Plan Tax Hike.” Its text appears in a post below.

“I even accept for the tax shift argument for the purposes of this discussion,” but he never did concede the point made by both school districts and the park district that they will increase tax rates on all non-TIF property in order to maximize their real estate tax revenue.

Shepley related a call he had just received from an 80-something woman asking about the tax hike mentioned in the leaflet.

“We’re not going to raise your taxes,” he told her.

The Mayor did wonder if the lack of public discussion of the Virginia Street TIF district earlier this year (which freezes assessments on property from McDonald’s to Burger King for other tax districts) had been “good.”

Shepley attempted to repair any break in relations with school district officials in the audience and admitted, “It’s a good healthy thing for people to know how the community is put together.

“We’re a mature city now. We’re not a young city,” he continued. “We’re beyond the development stage. We’re into the redevelopment stage.”

Shepley talked about the difficulty of competing for retail stores with empty farmland on Randall Road. “That’s why the TIF thing (is important),” he said.

The Mayor also pointed out that Crystal Lake Elementary School District 47 “has taken a neutral position on this.” (Still, its superintendent, Ron Miller, was in the Council Chambers, as were board members.)

Shepley argued that the Main Street TIF was “really a classic use of the TIF concept, pointing out that “all see the (vacant) Hines Lumber property” every day. He did not mention the summer sale by auction of the property for over $3 million.

He mentioned that the development that had been previously proposed for that property “wasn’t consistent with the city’s vision,” but it would be with the help that TIF’s passage would allow the city to provide.

“We’re not going to harm the schools. We’re not going to harm the parks,” he continued. “Why would we make that decision?”

Shepley echoed the city’s paid consultant, who had previously said that there would be a $6 million net gain for the tax districts when the Downtown TIF went out of existence.

“People like Mr. Skinner of Lakewood (argue) “that their taxes will go up,” Shepley said. “That’s not going to happen.”

“In the City of Crystal Lake, the (Downtown) TIF district works and it’s good. Projections are telling us this will have the same effect,” the Mayor continued. “I know that’s the reason for my decision.

“I’m 100% in support of this one.”

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