Now that most of us have had the luxury of at least some kind of holiday break, it’s time to ease back into regular life. And, in Riverside, that means debating whether a proposed Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district is a good idea.
It has been exciting to hear the debate and see people become so involved in a civic issue. But the discourse on both sides has veered into unproductive territory at times.
First, the trustees-many of whom have engaged in some understandable but alienating finger-wagging about the huge amount of work they do and the enormous number of meetings they attend.
Honestly, being an elected trustee has got to be one of the most thankless labors of love around. The workload-all of which is done on a volunteer basis-is staggering. And suddenly, all your friends and neighbors do is complain about how the village is run or want you to fix their neighborhood problems. Heck, even complete strangers are happy to stop you in the bank or grocery store with a gripe or two.
But the fact is, trustees do choose to make the commitment, and citizens elect them so that the elected officials can be the ones poring over budget line items and debating proposed ordinances ad infinitum. The citizenry chooses wisely-they hope-so they don’t have to attend every meeting and follow every issue closely, because they trust their trustees.
So, trustees, bite your tongues about people not attending all the meetings they should or coming “late” to the TIF issue. It’s just a fact of governmental life that you must shoulder a disproportionate share of the decision-making burden and accept being second-guessed on important issues.
Residents, think twice before about insinuating that trustees want a TIF for inappropriate reasons, whether for personal gain or other underhanded motives. As far as I can determine, every member of this village board takes his or her obligations to act in the public good seriously. I don’t always agree with the trustees, but that’s not because they’re dishonest or ill-intentioned.
And please stop ascribing sinister motives to various factors involving the proposed TIF. Eminent domain, METRA funding to create the downtown plan, the inclusion of the Riverside Swim Club and Swan Pond in the TIF district-none of these are the smoking gun that some have made them out to be.
Ok, so a transit body funded a study-well, they’re the ones with the deep pockets. Sure, we should analyze their recommendations closely for recommendations that favor transit bodies at the expense of others, but we shouldn’t dismiss what might be a valuable planning tool based on who provided the funding.
As for the swim club and Swan Pond, they appear in the potential TIF district simply because if they’re not so designated now, they could not legally receive any TIF funds later. I, for one, do not take that to mean that the village plans to seize the swim club’s site or mess with Olmsted’s naturalistic vision. Rather, the board might want to help the Swim Club with rehabbing or rebuild Swan Pond’s steps or retaining wall.
As for eminent domain, the prospect of being forced by government to sell your home is indeed frightening. But it doesn’t leap out at me as a reason not to implement a TIF. The fact is that governments do not need a TIF to declare eminent domain. And a new Illinois law that took effect Jan. 1 makes it more difficult for governments to declare eminent domain, which is all to the good.
I was struck by a comment that Trustee Kevin Smith made at the Dec. 4 Committee of the Whole meeting, at which trustees discussed possible ways to reinstate $60,000 that must be cut from the 2007 police budget.
“It’s frustrating to hear such overheated rhetoric about the TIF when we’re facing other, more immediate challenges,” he said. “Where do we get that $60,000 for the police department? In my opinion, that’s a much more pressing issue than the TIF.”
Which do you think is the more important issue: scrambling to maintain current services, or wrestling to develop a vision and mechanism to fund potential downtown improvements? It’s a stark reality that the Village of Riverside is rapidly running out of funds that allow it to maintain the current level of services.
Let’s put aside unproductive rhetoric on both sides in favor of examining the real issues involving a TIF: tax implications for residents, possible harmful effects on school funding and whether it could compel some of Riverside’s bad landlords to improve their intentionally neglected properties. We’ve got a lot to discuss.