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Cook County property tax bills to show how much goes to TIF districts

Cook County Clerk David Orr  |  Sun-Times files

Cook County Clerk David Orr | Sun-Times files

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Updated: August 13, 2013 6:33AM



Cook County property owners next year will for the first time see how much they pay toward tax-increment financing districts, Cook County Clerk David Orr said Thursday.

In announcing 2012 revenue for TIF districts in Chicago and Cook County suburbs, Orr said the county is changing the format of the twice-yearly tax bills. Starting with the summer bills of 2014, taxpayers will see how much — if anything — they pay into a TIF.

Tax bills break out amounts paid to every local government, but they are inaccurate for property in TIF districts. Owners of homes and businesses might think their money is supporting schools and municipal services, when much of it could be diverted to a TIF.

Orr said the change will improve accountability for TIFs, a tool for economic development that many think is misused or poorly controlled.

The clerk said Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has improved the city’s reporting of TIF activity. He praised the mayor for “slowing the stampede” of TIF creation that occurred under former Mayor Richard M. Daley.

With 154 TIFs, the city canceled nine last year and added none, Orr said.

But Orr said Chicago, which collected $457 million from its TIFs in 2012, should declare a surplus of those funds and remit money to the schools.

“How do you explain to the kids in many of these schools that gym, music, art and other things are canceled while profitable businesses” received TIF subsidies, Orr said.

In the last five years, Orr said, the city has tapped TIF surpluses to send $182 million to the public schools, including $10.5 million last year. He said the schools need more this year but wouldn’t estimate how much the city could provide.

After two years of declines, Chicago’s TIF revenue rose 0.74 percent in 2012, Orr’s office said. In suburban Cook County, TIF revenue fell 3 percent to $266 million.

In each TIF, property taxes are set at a baseline level and any increases over a set period, usually 23 years, are diverted to private investments or public works.

Local governments declare TIFs in supposedly “blighted” areas, but they have been applied broadly to any neighborhood looking for development. The most lucrative TIFs are in and near downtown Chicago.

Two of the richest TIFs include prominent development sites mentioned as possible casino locations. They are the old Chicago Main Post Office and a 62-acre parcel south of downtown that the city has taken the first steps toward acquiring.

Orr was asked if the tax sums being set aside indicated a stealthy push for a casino. He said the city has a right to plan for something it wants.

“There’s no question there’s scheming,” he said. “All I can say is I wish more of that was in the public light.”

The breakdown of revenue collected in each TIF, along with a map of Chicago districts, is available at suntimes.com.



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