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Orr calls for TIF timeout

Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Chicago Tribune
by Hal Dardick

Cook County Clerk David Orr today called for a timeout on creating controversial tax increment finance districts that retiring Mayor Richard Daley has relied on to spur economic development during his tenure.

Orr wants the moratorium to last at least until Daley's final term ends in May and hopes a comprehensive review of TIF districts can be done in the meantime. It’s not clear, however, if any new ones are wending their way through the city approval process. Attempts to get comment from Daley’s administration were not immediately successful.

“TIF Districts are supposed to generate economic development where it otherwise would not occur,” Orr said. “They were not created to be a rainy day fund or a safety net when the economy went sour. Too often, Chicago’s policy has been to collect millions in a piggy bank and decide how to spend it later.”

Orr isn’t part of city government, and he isn’t running for mayor, but as something of an elder statesman he decided to weigh in on the topic, which is one of the hot-button issues among candidates vying to succeed Daley in the Feb. 22 city election.

Orr said the tough economic times have forced a debate on the issue after the city declared $180 million in TIF funds as surplus to help struggling local taxing districts, including the city itself.

The city historically has created TIF districts each year, and a spokesman for the Community Development Department said they want to keep their “flexibility” in deciding whether to create more.

“TIFs are created and the funds generated by them are used to build and repair roads, infrastructure and sidewalks, create parks and open space, put vacant properties back to productive use and build affordable housing, usually in conjunction with private development projects,” spokeswoman Molly Sullivan said.

Also today, some aldermen pushed a proposal to spend 20 percent of TIF funds on affordable housing each year.

That debate became more complicated as a joint City Council committee approved a measure to make that standard a goal --- but not a requirement --- of the city. It was proposed by Ald. Pat O’Connor, 40th, Daley’s unofficial floor leader, and will compete with an earlier recommendation opposed by the Daley administration to make the 20 percent level a requirement.

O’Connor’s measure also would raise the incomes of families who could live in the new housing and provide more flexible financing methods to reach the 20 percent. Ald. Edward Burke, 14th, chairman of the Finance Committee, said he plans to bring both measures to a vote before the full City Council.

Ald. Toni Preckwinkle, 4th, a supporter of the stricter measure, said she believes O’Connor’s legislation is more likely to be approved, adding that it will at least require city administrations to give quarterly reports on the affordable-housing efforts related to TIFs.

In TIF districts, the amount of property taxes paid to local taxing districts is frozen for up to 23 years. Any increase in collections is used to pay for planning and construction to improve the area.

The idea is to spur development in blighted areas that would not have seen improvements without the TIF district, but critics say they city has gone to far in creating TIF districts in some areas, including a couple in the Loop, as TIF tax collections have swelled to more than $500 million from about $11 million during Daley’s nearly 24 years in office.

Daley has been criticized for not making the TIF districts part of his annual budget, even though they account for more than a third of the city’s property tax collections.

“I’m not against TIFs,” Orr said. “TIF is a very creative economic took, and in Chicago it seems to have been taken to the extreme.”

Orr made his comments as he released new county tax increment finance data for property taxes due next month. You can find that, and extensive TIF data dating back three years, by clicking here.



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