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Government - Local

Oswego officials questioned on proposed TIF district’s impact

Oswego residents whose homes and properties are located within the village’s proposed downtown tax increment financing district packed Village Hall on Tuesday evening during a public hearing regarding the TIF. 

Some stakeholders were all for creating the TIF, hoping it will help bring much-needed improvements to a stagnant downtown area, while others had questions about how it will change their yearly expenses.

“This [TIF] is extremely important to the village,” Village President Gail Johnson said during the hearing’s opening. “It’s a unique opportunity to assist development and implement much-needed infrastructure improvements.”

More than 20 years ago, state lawmakers gave local governments the power to create TIFs. A TIF’s goal is to help restore growth in areas going though economic change, or to revitalize currently stagnant parts of town. It allows cities and villages to make improvements they need, like new roads or sewers, to attract businesses, or help existing businesses expand, without tapping into general funds or raising taxes.

Property taxes collected on properties included in the TIF district at the time of its designation continue to be distributed to the school districts, county, community college and all other taxing districts as normal. Only property taxes generated by the incremental increase in the value of these properties after that time are available for use by the TIF.

In Oswego’s downtown corridor, Johnson said this function will come in handy. She noted that a “guiding principle” of the board is to focus on fixing infrastructure that is hindering the area’s growth.

“Sewer and water lines are in bad shape,” she said. TIF money will help offset these improvement costs. 

But, despite her promises that taxes will not be raised on properties within the TIF district unless their property values increase, there were many who expressed concerns.

“We see the advantages. Everybody talks about the advantages,” said a resident who lives on Washington Street. “What are some of the disadvantages? What are some of the bad things about it?”

Johnson looked perplexed. From the village’s standpoint, there is no downside of moving forward, she said. 

“With a well-written TIF, you will not see any [downside],” Johnson stressed. She talked about how the TIF improvements will only help to increase property values of homes and businesses in the area, which have seen a decrease in property value of 22 percent over the last nine years. 

With the new TIF-fueled improvements, it is the village’s hope that property values will begin to rise.

“If your property value goes up, your taxes will go up,” she said. “There are no additional taxes or fees, or nothing against anyone that lives in the TIF district.”

While Johnson’s answer appeared to relieve one man’s concern, there were others who seemed adamant about seeing the proposed TIF fall to the wayside once again. In particular was one man, who voiced nearly 30 minutes of concern at the podium.

The Oswego resident of more than 20 years asked Johnson who was representing the residents when it comes to the TIF decision.

“You hired big city Chicago lawyers for yourself. I feel like we don’t have anybody representing the people of Oswego. We need a lawyer to defend what we believe,” he said.

The man expressed his discontent with the way other towns, cities and villages have handled TIF districts, and became worried that the additional funds will fuel Oswego’s continued growth – something he doesn’t necessarily want to see.

He pointed toward Naperville, Plainfield, Batavia and Geneva as towns that have been “ruined” by TIF districts and building.

“That’s kind of what our town is becoming,” he said, concerned about the traffic, the overcrowding and the water supply. “We have to think about this stuff if we’re going to start building.”

He finished by expressing his discontent for the proposed TIF.

“For me, the program is bad for Oswego – bad for citizens and bad for taxpayers,” he said. “In my opinion, and my research, I don’t think we should follow suit with Naperville and Plainfield and Geneva. I am totally against it. I just wish the people had somebody that was representing us like a big lawyer.”

Following the lengthy comments, Johnson assured the man that she was, indeed, “there for him.”

“We represent you,” she said. “And, my door is always open for conversation.”

A third speaker, John Brodemus – a 30-year resident – brought several geological maps of the TIF district to hand to board members as a visual aid to his comments, which focused on the more technical side of proposed infrastructure improvements expected to happen should TIF funds come rolling in.

He noted that it has been cost-prohibitive in the past for anyone to come in and develop the currently underdeveloped areas in the downtown corridor.

By creating the TIF, “are you basically funding putting infrastructure in areas that are geologically disfavored?” he asked. “Are there other cost-effective options to conserve and enhance the village? Should some areas that are geologically disfavored be turned into park space?”

At least one resident did get up to speak in favor of the proposed TIF.

“I’m in favor of the TIF. It’s an alternate way of doing the financing,” he said. “The bucket’s empty. We have to look toward alternate solutions. I think the world of this village. I like everything about it. We can’t go back [to the way it used to be]. I guess we can make the choice to go somewhere else if we don’t like it. But if this new financing method can bring sewer and water to properties and fix the streets, it should be done.

“There are things we need to do in our downtown. It’s not just about infrastructure, but about the old that isn’t working. If we don’t [do something], it won’t just be the infrastructure deteriorating, it will be the community.”

The village board will vote on the TIF’s creation in September or October.

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