Monday, February 04, 2013
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Steering committee updates the public on downtown revitalization project

Part 3: Discussions turn to money and TIF districts

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[February 04, 2013]  Last Tuesday evening the Downtown Revitalization Steering Committee hosted a public meeting to share the work they have done thus far on a major makeover project for the downtown Lincoln area.

Early on in the meeting, Darren Forgy of Prairie Engineers offered a recap of past events, including the financing for the project thus far.

Forgy explained that grant funds from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity are providing $675,000. In addition, a local match requirement of $100,000 is attached to the grant, bringing the total budget to date to $775,000.

That money has been divided into funding for planning and then actual implementation. Forgy said $336,300 is being invested in the planning stages of the projects, leaving $438,800 for project implementation, which will not cover all that is being proposed. The city will have to find additional funding for many of the projects. This funding can come from future grants and also the possibility of a rehabilitation TIF district for the downtown area.

Last year the city of Lincoln began work on establishing a TIF district for the downtown area. TIF, or tax increment funding, is a program in which the city can reap the benefits of increased property taxes when business owners in the downtown region update or refurbish their properties.

The TIF the city is looking to establish falls in line with revitalization, in that the eligible businesses would be those occupying buildings that are at least 35 years old and require updating. One of the attractive parts of this program is that the updating needs to keep the appearance of the building close to what it was when originally built, thus maintaining the historic quality of the downtown area.

For all the other taxing bodies involved, the downside is that they will gain nothing from the increase in property tax for a period of up to 23 years, the natural life of a TIF district in Illinois.

On the upside, the city can control the look of the downtown area, and for taxing bodies that will not benefit from a TIF, such as local school districts, there is less likelihood that there will be added population. Thus, there is less likelihood schools will have to deal with a large influx of students moving into the area without a large influx of dollars to match.

The beauty of the TIF is that it can be used to provide business owners with cash for improvement projects. The gains the city will see in tax revenue can be used as local match for future grants for the revitalization projects.

Tuesday evening, as Ian Colgan wrapped up his presentation to the public, the discussion of TIFs took a front seat in the room. Colgan told the group that a TIF district would be an ideal situation for the city, but he also said they need to be carefully managed in order to be successful.

In fielding questions, he explained the process of a TIF program and qualified that in choosing to finance a project through TIF funds, the key phrase should be "but for." To complete the phrase, he said: "Will investment and tax revenue occur but for investment and bringing people in?" He explained further: "If you invest to make investment, but that money never comes back out of the fund back into the tax rolls, you've defeated the purpose."

Asked what the biggest downside to TIF districts is, Colgan said it would have to be poor planning. "If you submit a redevelopment bond and the tax revenue you anticipated doesn't develop, then the city is on the hook," he said.

Forgy added to that, saying sometimes communities use the TIF for the wrong reason. He explained that some will use the TIF when something was going to happen anyway, using it to jump-start the process when it isn't really going to change the final outcome.

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County board member Terry Carlton asked how TIF numbers would affect PTEL. The PTEL, or property tax extension law, is a tax cap implemented in Logan County. The tax cap controls the rate at which taxes can increase in a tax year.

Forgy said the TIF didn't affect the tax rates, and Colgan added that there was still a base involved that would not change after it was set.

When the TIF district is established in Lincoln, the base for property taxes will be set according to current estimated assessed value. Colgan said that if, for example, the base were to be $1,000,000, then the tax revenue from that portion would not ever be taken by TIF.

When the assessed value rises, for example to $2,000,000, the tax would be calculated, and the taxes from the original $1,000,000 would go to all taxing bodies. The tax from the second $1,000,000 would go to the TIF funds.

Other comments that came from this portion of the discussion included a few words from Brian Bergen of the Lincoln & Logan County Development Partnership. Bergen has recently announced that the development partnership has been accepted in a regional CEDS program, which will open the door to new funding sources through grants. Tuesday night he reminded the audience that most grants require local matching funds, and TIF can provide those funds.

Another comment, from Jan Schumacher, opened the door for a new source of funding. Schumacher said she felt it would be good for the community to start working on creating a foundation for local preservation.

Another comment pertained to using Kickapoo Street as the main street into the downtown area. From the square and north to Keokuk, the street is a nice location.

However, it was noted that from Keokuk north to the Route 66-55 loop, there are areas that are unsightly and don't give the best first impression. The committee acknowledges this is the case. Colgan said, however, that for the immediate time, the goal is to start in the heart of the city and work outward, and perhaps those issues can be addressed as time goes by.


Note: The steering committee for the proposed plan continues to encourage public participation. They would like to hear your thoughts on the proposed plans on how to improve Lincoln's downtown.

Send us your thoughts:
Yes, I like ____. No, I don't like this part: ____. I have another idea: ____.

Want to know more? Another meeting is planned in about a month. The date is not set yet.

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