By Dec. 31, 2014, all money in the Harrisburg Tax Increment Finance District No. 1 will have to be spent or distributed among the taxing bodies. Where it should best be spent is the question.
What more effectively builds a better community, roads and development or school? That was the question explored at the TIF District Joint Review Board’s meeting Thursday morning at Harrisburg City Hall.
Engineer Jim Brown explained the projects on which the City of Harrisburg wants to spend the $2.6 million expected to be in the TIF District by next year. The chief objector was Harrisburg Superintendent Dennis Smith who said the school district needs the TIF money desperately in order to cope with diminished funding.
In a TIF district the Joint Review Board has a say on whether the city can spend TIF money on additional projects in the TIF district that were not in the original plan when the TIF was approved.
The city proposes the following infrastructure projects that are estimated to total $2,371,000:
- $500,000 for the city’s matching portion of a federal Economic Development Administration grant of $1.6 million to replace the malfunctioning trickling filter at the sewage treatment plant. Julie Patera of the Southeastern Illinois Regional Planning and Development Commission said the grant has been in the hands of federal entities for eight months. She said U.S. Rep. John Shimkus is working to get the grant award speeded up.
- $96,000 Veterans Drive water main extension. This would extend water service north of the current offices on Veteran’s Drive near Small Street to encourage development.
- $400,000 for extending sewer service north of Veterans Drive.
- $750,000 to extend Ford Street and Leberman Road. This is an agreement between the city and the county that would open up acreage owned by the county — that lacks the funds to build the roads — to development. The project also makes an adjoining portion of land owned by the city available for development.
- $225,000 to extend and build an access road at McIlrath Street and Lewis Street, a project that ties into the Ford Street and Leberman Road area development.
- $300,000 for water main and water meter repair, replacement and extensions. Water Superintendent Kelly Hefner said there is a need for a water main replacement from Gum Street to Locust Street and on Rose Street. He said both have been troublesome lines to the city. Saline County Board member Joe Jackson said the TIF boundaries do not extend to Locust Street — it is a half block away from the TIF. Hefner said if Jackson is correct that project would be paid for by the city, not from the TIF.
- $100,000 for reservoir repair and a pump for excess flow storm water at the sewage lagoon. The floods of 2008 and 2011 created an erosion problem when the lagoons overflowed with storm water.
Page 2 of 3 - When Mayor Eric Gregg asked for joint review board representatives to speak, Smith read a statement regarding funding shortfalls facing the school district. He said he did not argue the importance of any of the city’s projects, but maintains school funding should be a higher priority.
“As important as these proposed projects may be a community is more than roads and sewers and water meters. A perfectly constructed community with a public school system that is suffering severely and eliminating programs at a sickening pace is a community that will have difficulty attracting business and new citizens regardless of the infrastructure high points,” Smith said.
He said 16 teachers have been cut in the past three years and lost over $1.6 million in state aid proration in the last two year. He said Governor Pat Quinn said the budget for 2014 would provide schools only 82 percent of their state aid entitlement which means a loss of $1,750,000 to the district for the 2013-2014 school year.
He anticipates a reduced equalized valuation for the district due to the Feb. 29, 2012, tornado and a possible shift in pensions from the state to school districts.
He said possible penalties from the Affordable Care Act regarding health insurance and a proposed increase in minimum wage are additional cost concerns to the district.
Last week the board expelled a seventh grade student for the remainder of the year. In previous years that student would have been admitted to a special program to keep difficult students in school, but that program had to be cut. He said the district has cut all extras and extracurricular activities may be next.
“Harrisburg has great pride in its sports teams, but those will not stay off the radar much longer,” Smith said.
He said that district’s share of the TIF money might make it unnecessary for the district to borrow money. Borrowing money means paying off interest with property tax money.
“With all due respect today, the Harrisburg school district board of education is pleading with you to declare the TIF experience a success to congratulate all involved for a job well done and to allow the money collected to go back to the various taxing bodies,” Smith said.
Gregg said if the TIF money is distributed among the taxing bodies the schools are entitled to 43 percent of the total.
The board recessed the meeting until 8 a.m. April 4. Gregg said all taxing bodies at the meeting were required to vote whether they approved or disapproved of the projects. Saline County Board Chairman Carey Harbison said he could not vote until he presented the information to the county board that met Thursday night.
There will be a public hearing on the city’s proposed TIF projects 8 a.m. April 30 at City Hall for the city to receive public comments. The council will make the decision to continue with the project, modify or drop them during the first regular meeting in May which currently is 6 p.m. May 2.
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