By: Ted Dabrowski and John Klingner
In a 2012 referendum, more than 60 percent of Kenilworth residents voted against Home Rule, which would have given village trustees more power to raise taxes and borrow without needing voter referendums.
Now the Kenilworth Village Board has found an end-run around the 2012 referendum and the will of their residents. The trustees want to use a complex financial tool called a TIF to borrow money and invest more than $23 million in taxpayer dollars, in real estate and infrastructure, on Kenilworth’s business district along Green Bay Road – all without voter approval.
Kenilworth has no business creating a TIF, but it’s an effective way for officials to evade residents’ wishes. Village manager Patrick Brennan admitted as much in a recent public meeting. He said that residents would be unlikely to pass a referendum authorizing tax increases to pay for business district developments.
It’s bad enough that the board is attempting to create a TIF district without residents’ consent. But what’s more insulting is that two of the board’s justifications for invoking the use of a TIF are easily disproved.
The board has already surpassed one hurdle to getting the TIF in place: a majority of local governments affected by the TIF already voted in May to authorize it, over the objection of New Trier Township SD 203 and Kenilworth SD 38.
Now all that remains is for the Kenilworth Board itself to authorize the TIF. The vote is scheduled for today, July 15, 2019.
The whole TIF process hasn’t required a single vote from local residents, a fact many taxpayers consider outrageous considering the community’s previous rejection of Home Rule. That was evident from many comments made by residents opposing the TIF during a public hearing last week.
Investment is already happening
The village and its consultant’s justifications for creating a TIF don’t hold up to scrutiny.
Start with the core requirement for creating a TIF: the “but for” requirement. That requirement says that “but for” additional investment of public funds and taxpayer subsidies in a target area, private investment would not occur.
Kenilworth officials insist that the village’s business district is at risk of “blight” and needs taxpayer help to attract any investment. But even a quick glance at the area makes the “but for” argument fall apart. There is already plenty of private investment occurring without any taxpayer subsidies or incentives.
Consider the area’s most recent private commercial property transactions:
- The Blann’s Pharmacy building was just purchased in June of this year for $3.175 million.
- The two north-most buildings in the business district are being demolished to make way for a Wilmette family-owned Pilates studio.
- Chick Evans purchased a building on Green Bay Road and is spending more than the purchase price to ready it for his restaurant.
- The Triangle building at the Roger and Green Bay intersection has been filled by an interior design firm.
In addition, investors spent millions in recent years upgrading the Fenner building, now home to several medical businesses. And The Last Detail turned a body shop into a collector car showroom.
Loss in EAV isn’t special
Another supposed justification for a TIF is that the target area’s property value has declined in three of the past five years. The city’s consultant proved that to be a fact for the TIF area.
But a deeper look at the entire village of Kenilworth shows its property values dropped by the same relative amount as the TIF area over the same period. There is nothing special about the TIF area to say that it declined more in value.
Village Pres. Ann Potter even admitted in an email that the EAV justification will fall apart when more recent property value data is included. In public email correspondence, acquired through a FOIA request, she said:
“In addition, if we do not act by August we will have to begin the process all over again. I am not confident that we would qualify in the near future given that this is a reassessment year and the new assessor has pledged to aggressively assess commercial properties...”
In other words, officials have to vote on the TIF now because this year’s reassessment data will likely crush their claim that the business area is losing value.
No input…No TIF
The whole TIF process is unfair and little more than a end-run around what Kenilworth residents want.
Residents rejected home rule to prevent their local officials from exceeding tax-cap limitations and borrowing without voter approval. Now the TIF will give the board access to similar taxing and bond-debt powers residents originally rejected.
Kenilworth taxpayers have no way of stopping the board outside of a lawsuit – which is a costly, time-consuming pursuit.
Kenilworth resident Lois Stanley summed up her own thoughts to the board: “Residents denied you the powers of Home Rule in 2012. Residents believed they would get to vote via referendum on large expenditures and significant issues. Although you have the power to impose a TIF, would you please honor and respect the clear intent of the voters and submit this to a referendum?”
For full details on Kenilworth’s TIF proposal and an assessment of the city consultant’s claims, read:
Five reasons why New Trier residents should oppose TIFs in Kenilworth
Only in Illinois: Ultra-rich communities like Kenilworth want TIFs
New TIF war breaks out – in Kenilworth – Crain’s
Editorial: A TIF to tackle the blight of … Kenilworth? – Chicago Tribune