The workshop series the Village of Riverside held to educate the public and reevaluate the proposed creation of a TIF district in the downtown concluded last night having provided significant amounts of information and sparking much debate, but still leaving many questions about the topic unanswered.

The four-part series was designed to cover all aspects of the issue. The first two workshops, each held over two sessions, reviewed the financial status of the village and explored possible development plans for the central business district, or CBD.

The second half of the series addressed the proposed TIF district more directly, looking at the financing options available for CBD development and finally bringing together a panel of residents to discuss the pros and cons of a TIF district for the downtown.

It was during this second half of the series that arguments for and against the current TIF proposal resurfaced, with those against the proposal calling for more information from the village to determine exactly what the effects of a TIF district in Riverside will be.

Those in favor of the proposal again stressed the leverage TIF funds would give village administrators when working with developers and property owners. This point was especially made during the Feb. 22 session of the third workshop, when comparing TIF districts to other economic development tools, such as special service areas or government grants.

“With resources, you create incentives,” Joe Pilewski, chairman of the Riverside Economic Development Commission, said. “TIF is a reasonable approach to obtaining the village’s highest priorities.”

Similar arguments for the TIF were also made at the Feb. 24 session of the fourth workshop topic, “To TIF or Not to TIF?” However, at that session those arguments were countered by residents who still didn’t believe the proposed TIF district would promote the appropriate kind of development in the CBD, or who wanted more information from the village on how a TIF district would affect other taxing districts, especially schools.

According to Philip McKenna, the village’s financial consultant on the TIF district, those numbers were not available, because neither of the school districts in the village had yet responded to his firm’s efforts to calculate estimates of how a TIF might affect their revenue base.

Some residents argued, however, that those estimates would be essential in the final decision to establish a TIF district, and should be shared with the public as soon as possible.

“The TIF might be a good tool,” Chris Robling, a resident and trustee with the National Association of Olmsted Parks, said. “But it ought to be justified on the basis of publicly disclosed financials.”

Robling is also running as a candidate for the Riverside-Brookfield High School District 208 board.

Beyond the more specific questions about the effects of a TIF district, however, it was also apparent that some level of confusion remained over the basic facts of TIF districts in general. For example, the first question at the Feb. 24 workshop asked the village’s financial consultant to once again review what a TIF district is. According to Diane Legge Kemp, a Riverside resident and architect who helped organize the workshop series, other residents she spoke to also had questions on the basics of the issue.

“There is still a basic lack of understanding of what a TIF is and what it does,” she said.

In response to this apparent need for more information, Kemp said the initial next step after the workshops will essentially be educational events to answer residents’ remaining questions. At the Feb. 24 workshop, she said meetings focusing on the school districts, the Olmsted legacy, and retail strategies for the downtown would be held in the near future.

The decision to continue with public meetings leaves up in the air the village board’s timeline for returning to and finally making a decision on whether to establish the TIF district. At the Feb. 24 workshop, multiple trustees said they appreciated the public input the village received during the meetings, but would need more time to digest the new information before deciding how to proceed.

“You’re asking for conclusions on what we haven’t yet deliberated on,” Trustee Kevin Smith said, in response to residents’ questions on board members’ positions on the issue. “There’s still a lot of information I need answers to. A lot of things are still unclear.”