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Our View: Sycamore Road does not need TIF district

It looks as though property across Sycamore Road from the shopping center anchored by Lowe’s and Walmart is redeveloping nicely at the moment.

So why does the DeKalb City Council want to jump in?

Council members have been considering designating a small area on Sycamore Road as a tax increment financing district for months now.

But the plan has stalled, in part because it probably isn’t necessary.

One of the properties, a ramshackle old building that was a veterinary office years ago, isn’t part of the city at all – although it could be annexed. Another is Northern Illinois University’s Art Annex at 2211 Sycamore Road. And the third piece of property, the former site of the Small’s Furniture store, already is part of an older TIF district and is being redeveloped.

Mayor John Rey said at the council meeting last week that two developers had approached him about building something on the site of the abandoned vet building without asking for any special incentives.

So why bring tax increment financing into the equation? It certainly might give the city some more money it can spend on projects of its choosing, but it doesn’t appear necessary here.

Tax increment financing freezes the property tax revenues that local governments (such as schools, park districts, and cities) receive from a given area for 23 years. As that property grows in value through redevelopment, the increase in property taxes is diverted to a special account that can be used by the city for improvements. No doubt city leaders see the appeal in having several million dollars in added revenue under their control. The City Council recently voted to commit $2 million in TIF money to the library expansion project, for example.

Even DeKalb School District 428, which has the most to lose from a tax freeze, seems to agree that it would be OK because the area is small and it could generate “surplus” revenue that could be paid to the schools.

But tax increment financing is supposed to be used to encourage development in areas that need it, not just to generate revenue for City Hall to spend.

If the council wants to look at areas that could use some help with revitalization, they should focus on the other area being considered for TIF, the South Fourth Street corridor. There you have an area with real conditions of blight – including an abandoned auto parts store with toxic waste contamination and deteriorating public improvements.

As we have stated previously, the city could help by establishing a vision for that area and working toward realizing it. The Sycamore Road properties are in a high-traffic, high-visibility location and should do fine on their own.

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