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DeKalb researching area for possible TIF district

Two women leave the Sigma Sigma Sigma sorority house Monday at 1202 Blackhawk Road in DeKalb.
Two women leave the Sigma Sigma Sigma sorority house Monday at 1202 Blackhawk Road in DeKalb.

DeKALB – Scott Morrow thinks South Fourth Street could use some help.

Morrow, the owner of Flippin’ Eggs, 831 S. Fourth St., has seen other businesses come and go. Morrow said there aren’t any anchor businesses to attract a large number of customers in the area.

“You don’t have anything down here that’s a destination,” Morrow said. “Just places to drive by.”

City officials agree with Morrow that the South Fourth Street area needs to be redeveloped, which is why they are researching the prospects of making it a tax increment finance district.

In these districts, local taxing bodies can only collect on a property’s base value for a maximum 23 years. Property taxes are not capped though.

The money collected above the base value – referred to as the increment – goes into a special fund to pay for improvements within the district.

City Manager Mark Biernacki has identified three possible locations for a new district. Those locations are along South Fourth Street, past Taylor Street toward Huntley Middle School; the apartments in and around Greek Row; and parts of Sycamore Road near Hopkins Park.

The city already has two TIF districts: the Central Area TIF District (located along Lincoln Highway and Sycamore Road) and TIF 2 (located south of Lincoln Highway and north of Taylor Street).

Tim Lehan, pharmacist and owner of Lehan Drugs, 1407 S 4th St., also likes the idea of using tax increment financing in the area around South Fourth.

“[South Fourth] is one of the main entryways into DeKalb, and for the most part, it doesn’t look like it,” Lehan said.

But a third such district, and the accompanying freeze in property tax payments to governments, could place a strain on DeKalb School District 428, district Superintendent Jim Briscoe said. The district’s budget for this school year includes a $2.3 million operating deficit, and school officials have said the district’s financial situation is unsustainable.

The district receives about two-thirds of its revenue from property taxes.

“In the same breath, in this economy, communities all over the country are put in a position to develop an area that is blighted,” Briscoe said. “I think it’s important to find an incentive to bring in businesses to areas that need it.”

Huntley Middle School, and the Fairview fields that the school board is considering swapping with a local developer in exchange for land adjacent to DeKalb High School, could potentially fall into a South Fourth tax increment financing district. Briscoe agreed that redevelopment along South Fourth Street is “very much needed.”

“I see some TIFs being beneficial to the overall community,” Briscoe said.

Briscoe said the DeKalb City Council has previously allocated tax-increment funds to help with renovations in certain schools. He said that any proposal for a new district would have to be studied by the school board.

State law allows the city to unilaterally create a TIF district, Biernacki said, but he added that it has been city practice to get the consent of all eight taxing bodies that would be affected.

Biernacki said city officials still are researching the idea, with a report likely to be presented to the council sometime in November or December. It would not be until the summer when the City Council would vote on it, he said.

For his part, Lehan said he thought the trade-off for local governments such as the DeKalb Park District and District 428 is worth it.

“It’s really the only avenue you have for development, or changing the area,” Lehan said.

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