TIF heats up Willow Springs

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TIF heats up Willow Springs

Tempers flare at meeting about ballroom land

By Steve Metsch

The place to be at 4 p.m. Monday was the Willow Springs Village Hall.

Seats in the village board meeting room were filled early. The overflow crowd filled the hallway outside the room, another meeting room and extended up a hall to the building’s foyer.

Two women, tired from standing, found chairs in a closet and sat there while they listened to supporters and opponents debate the merits of a proposed Tax Increment Financing district on the 12-acre site where the stately Willowbrook Ballroom had stood for decades.

Since that ballroom went up in flames in October 2016, the land has been ripe for development. Now, to entice development, the village is proposing the TIF II district, and that’s what brought out the curious residents.

About half the crowd seemed genuinely interested in learning more about what it means for their property tax bills and the fiscal well-being of Willow Springs.

The other half? Their minds seem to be made up. Some were cheering or jeering – depending on the comment – making catcalls or shouting their own comments when they did not have the floor.

An overflow crowd packed the Willow Springs Village Hall on April 22 to attend an informational meeting about a TIF proposed for where the Willowbrook Ballroom stood until the October 2016 fire. Photo by Steve Metsch.

 

Mayor John Carpino, who earlier said he was prepared to “be here until midnight” to answer all the questions, had little patience with outbursts.

“If you talk out of turn, I’ll have you removed from the building. I’ll do it myself,” the former police chief said.

“Was that the mayor who said that?” one man in the hall asked.

Carpino said he was ready to cut the meeting short and move it to another day and location.

“I’m not going to tolerate this. Call me a crook, thief, stupid, whatever you want, but we have an expert here and the residents have questions,” Carpino said. “You think this is a big joke?”

That same man in the hallway murmured, “Oh, this is no joke.”

Michael Belsky, executive director of the Center for Municipal Finance at the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago, spoke at length about the merits of a TIF, how it could entice a developer by delaying property taxes for a number of years.

“Just like anything else the village board does, it has to be an open process. TIFs have to be audited every year and the (results of the) audit has to be made available to the public … there’s a lot of transparency,” Belsky said.

A man with the “Reject TIF 2” team – which had signs in the crowd – talked for about 40 minutes, tearing into village officials about the TIF idea and saying his group had been threatened by a letter from the village, which he read into the record.

He questioned the need for TIF II, noting that the village’s first TIF, where the village hall is located at the corner of Willow Springs Road and Archer Avenue, still has some empty storefronts on the first floors of buildings with residential units on the upper floors.

He wondered why the village couldn’t wait a few years until that TIF expires and start finally reaping the tax benefits from that TIF, before diving into another TIF.

Another resident noted that there’s been plenty of commercial development – townhomes and condos, a funeral home, and an upscale restaurant – all on Archer west of the Willowbrook Ballroom land.

Each, he said, was established by developers who did not work with a TIF. Each, he said, are paying their property taxes that help the village.

One resident who declined to give his last name for fear of retribution, said he and his wife had moved into Willow Springs from Western Springs to avoid high property taxes.

“I moved here from Western Springs because our taxes there were getting ridiculous. To be honest, they’re a third of what they were in Western Springs. I was paying over $16,000 a year and I had a 120-year-old home,” the man, 65, said.

Carpino has said earlier that TIF II would not raise property taxes for residents of the village.

“I’ll be honest with you, because of the tax savings, it didn’t catch my sight, but with everything going on, it wakes you up. I’m not really sure what the feedback or the advantages of TIF II will be. I still can’t figure it out,” the man said, shaking his head.

The resident said that despite all the outpouring of emotion in the meeting, “the bottom line is that the village board makes the final decision.”

“And if you read comments or whatever, I actually feel that their mind is made up,” the man said while he sat with a reporter outside the village hall.

“The only thing that throws me off about the whole thing is that if West Point (Builders) never asked for a TIF to begin with … where did it come from? Why was it even offered? How many of them fail? … I don’t have an opinion one way or another.

“There are two sides to every story, everybody knows that, sometimes even more,” the man added.

— Desplaines Valley News

Steve Metsch
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