TIF’s, Facts Not Fiction

The purpose and function of a TIF (Tax Increment Financing) District is to use the real estate tax increment generated by increasing property values within the district to help bring more value to the area by reinvesting the increment back into the district.  There is no hard and fast requirement for any TIF project to produce jobs, additional revenue, or anything tangible.  TIF has also been described as a “but for” incentive, meaning, “but for” the investment of TIF dollars, the project or property would not be done or the improvement would not be made.  Every single TIF deal is first reviewed by the TIF Advisory Board before it is referred to the Village Board for approval.  Public comment is taken at both meetings and rough guidelines have been set up to avoid abuse of the funding process.  Not all TIF funding goes to private property projects, public projects can also be funded.  As an example, we put sewers on N. Main Street, because there will be no future development in that area “but for” sewer being available to a new building or project. 

Today’s post by Mr. Seehausen regarding the private meeting recently held with property owners bordering the alley on the west side of Main Street between Exchange and Cass is nothing short of incredible.  First of all, the meeting was private for a reason.  We were trying to be sensitive to the opinions and circumstances of all involved.  If there was an owner that could not, for whatever reason, get on board with this project, we were not interested in having that become a public issue.  Pardon us for being sensitive.  The public will have ample time to review and comment on the plan once it is closer to being finalized.  This entire issue should not be a political football.  We have looked at this project several times in the past and have not acted in favor of making the improvement, because frankly, it wasn’t justified.  Just after the park district announced their dance studio and purchase of the building, we received an inquiry from a local business owner expressing concern about the parking situation.  We had no idea how many folks could possibly be using the new studio, so after checking, we decided to review our previous plans and have a preliminary meeting.  Because the plan anticipates using a layout that disregards property lines and treats the area as one large piece, buy-in is needed from all owners.  My personal observation of parking in this area is, that with rare occasion, adequate parking is available, especially in the evenings when the bank is closed.  It should also be pointed out that back in 2003 Mr. Seehausen sued the Village of Crete in an attempt to force us to close the fitness center, because some of its patrons parked in his lot.  He lost the suit, because he had a remedy, that being, to tow the vehicles, which I believe he did.  To help remedy the situation, we took over the Methodist Church parking lot as a public facility, intended for use of employees of the downtown area, but it seems he has heartburn with that also. 

To answer directly his other allegations, it should first be noted that I have never voted for a TIF project.  The projects are not “the Mayor’s”.  They are projects of various origins that have been brought to the Village Board for consideration and are all handled and reviewed for their own distinct merit.  No two are alike or treated alike for that reason.  No one has been “forced” to do anything except follow the codes as they relate to what they are trying to accomplish, like turning a house into a business.  Businesses have different requirements than homes, and we have not used TIF funds for any private single family residence.  We have purchased vacant run down property, which is an allowable expenditure, with the intention to assemble property when it becomes available, to avoid being held hostage by a future owner.  In both cases it was property within the Metra Station planning area and could be used as parking until the need changes, once the final station location is selected and designed.  This is called vision and planning ahead and acting not reacting.  All of this was discussed in open session.  The Village Board is very thorough and deliberate in their evaluation of all TIF projects.  You have to make your case to receive funds. 

As far as naming a ground up development in the downtown, I guess Mr. Seehausen forgot about Matt’s Printing.  Building an actual structure is a prohibited use of TIF funds, but in Matt’s case his funding was used for utility work and site preparation.  Remember that one of the main purposes of TIF is to provide façade restorations, especially in older areas, which we have promoted and funded by teaming with willing owners.  Mr. Seehausen has also apparently forgotten that the Edge has addressed their rear entrance area and the Park District will be doing the same.  No other TIF projects have been proposed for buildings that have alley area exposure.  And, as far as street lights are concerned, the luminaries are different in the Main Street decorative lights than in the lights on the side streets.  The State of Illinois has strict lighting standards that prohibit brighter bulbs at lower levels along state highways, such as IL Rte 1/Main Street.  That is why there are tall overhead lights mixed in along with the decorative lights on Main Street.  Everything that has been done regarding TIF has been straight forward and transparent.  I guess it takes running for office and not paying attention to justify second guessing the last 20 years of TIF work. 

Leadership, vision, planning, cooperation and compromise are what it takes to make TIF work, along with some problem solving abilities thrown in for good measure.  This is what a mayor understands and does along with a talented and educated staff of professionals.  I hope residents consider this when they go to the polls on April 9th.

Goals: Near Term

Crete is a great place and it is on its way to becoming even better. We have lots of assets that are yet to be realized and fully developed. We have an abundance of open space, a large amount of Village owned property, the IL 394 corridor, heavily forested areas, the potential for an extensive trail system, a well defined downtown area, abundant land for industrial development, a wide variety of housing options, including senior housing, the possibility of a Metra station and excess sewer and water capacity. Not many towns can make these claims. My goal is to develop and utilize these assets in the best way possible for the long term benefit of our residents and in keeping with our planning objectives that have been defined with citizen input. This is a process not an event.

You will hear about what other candidates are dreaming about, what they claim they are going to do without regard to reality or costs involved, using comments intended to create suspicions that something is wrong or something has been mismanaged. They will also bring up items that have already been effectively handled and are really old news. The governance of the third airport, Illiana Expressway and the intermodal facility are prime examples. I will tell you what I want to accomplish, at a minimum, during the next couple of years, and I have a “wish list” of several other things that would be nice to accomplish if the funds are available.

  • Assist in the completion of the Holland Company’s major office expansion and the Al-Amin Brother’s refrigerated warehouse development totaling an $11M investment in Crete.
  • Implement a new parking plan on the west side of Main between Exchange and Cass.
  • Encourage more property owners to do façade changes in the downtown area, such as Aurelio’s and Cal’s.
  • Finish the downtown “Time Square” project so that area is completed.
  • Investigate the possibility of making major changes to the east side of Main between Cass and Exchange that will open up more Main Street retail opportunities.  We need new retail space in the downtown area if we expect to attract any additional new businesses.
  • Create a new street off of N. Main Street across from Speedway that would go east.  This would create an access point to a new mixed use area that could provide new retail opportunities.  The traffic count at this location is double that of properties south of Burville Road and the land is less expensive.
  • Build Old Monee Road east through to Hartmann Drive to open up more industrial property ready for immediate development and create marketing plans for the TIF #3 industrial area.
  • Build on our successes in the 394 corridor.  We did well even during a down economy, so as the market turns we should do even better.  There are users out there; we just need to identify them.  One retailer I have identified is currently reviewing the area for a possible project.
  • Encourage CenterPoint Properties to consider redefining their focus to include a wider variety of potential users.  This project needs to move forward.
  • Create an easy to use property inventory list on the Village web site featuring available residential, commercial, retail and industrial development sites.
  • I will again explore the creation of a train horn quiet zone, if we can secure a funding source.  It appears that I have just identified a possible condition change, which could reduce the overall cost to a point where it may be possible.
  • Work with the park district on finalizing the master trail plan for the entire village.  I drew one up several years ago and presented it to the Crete Park District.  Because they are under funded, it has never been finalized or been officially acted on by the district.  This will give everyone a vision for what needs to be accomplished as the village grows.

All of these items are realistic, attainable, and within the area of responsibility of village government operations. All of these items will move our economy ahead, provide growth opportunities and enhance our quality of life.

Mike Einhorn, Village President

Understanding The Real Estate Tax Issue

Lately it seems that I am spend a good amount of my time educating the residents about the finer points of municipal government so they can understand the misleading and false promise that they have made by my opponents.  Unfortunately, I am also educating them at the same time on subjects they should already be fluent with if they are going to run the Village. 

The most common complaint that I hear from residents is that the real estate taxes are too high.  I believe I can identify with that since I pay about $14,000.00 in taxes each year.  High taxes affect me just like everyone else.  However, the Village of Crete is only responsible for about 12.6% or one eighth of the total real estate tax bill, about $2.4 million dollars per year.  While this may seem like a lot of money, it only represents about 23% of all the dollars the Village uses to operate in a year.  It is the only predictable source of income the Village has.  In the coming year, your tax dollars will be collected in the following amounts for the purpose shown:

  • General Operations                    $540,000.00
  • Street Lighting                            $  46,000.00
  • Police Protection                        $300,000.00
  • Police Pension  Fund                 $230,000.00
  • Public Benefit Fund                    $  18,000.00
  • Ill Muni Retirement Fund        $120,000.00
  • Social Security                           $150,000.00
  • Bond & Int. Debt Service          $  94,250.00
  • Fire Protection                           $650,000.00
  • EMA                                             $  61,000.00
  • Auditing & Accounting               $  36,000.00
  • Liability Insurance                     $225,000.00
  • Crossing Guards                         $  28,000.00

All spending not covered by the real estate tax collections shown above are covered by revenue generated from other sources.  The amounts shown above, for the most part, are equal to or less than what the yearly expenditure will be in the fund.  As an example, we spend just over $28,000.00 to pay the crossing guards that assist children cross streets on their way to and from school.  Our Liability Insurance bill is right around $225,000.00 per year.  On the other hand Police Protection costs about $1.9 million per year, with the additional dollars coming from a variety of other sources to make up the difference.  If you are going to cut real estate taxes, which of the above items can actually be cut, and if you do cut the tax collections by lowering the rate, where will new revenue come from to replace the loss?  Keep in mind that currently every penny of tax rate is equal to roughly $18,000.00 in tax dollars to the Village.  That same penny in tax rate, viewed as a reduction in the tax rate, on a house valued at $150,000.00 will produce a $5.00 reduction in the tax bill.  Put another way, you have to drop the levy request (as shown above) by $18,000.00 to see just a $5.00 reduction in the tax bill of a $150,000.00 home.

Note: This illustration applies only to the Village portion of your real estate tax bill.  Similar calculations could be performed for all taxing bodies listed on the tax bill to illustrate what affect a penny reduction would have for each.

As one can see, cutting taxes is a difficult task, because it takes a certain amount of money to cover all the village funding needs, and the costs of operation are always increasing.  Funding municipal government is a complicated and difficult task that requires skill, planning and knowledge of where money comes from and flows to.  My superior knowledge of this subject allowed me to skillfully guide the Village through the last very financially difficult years.  My management has produced a good bond and financial rating, a small reserve fund and a very conservative approach to spending.  No other candidate for Village President has anything close to this experience and record of successful operation.  There is no room for error in finance.  It’s so easy to spend money when you don’t have to be responsible for where it comes from.

IT’S NOT SPRING, ITS’ SILLY SEASON

In his latest letter to the editor Don Seehausen proposes to eliminate the “unnecessary vehicle sticker” road tax.  As so often in the past, Mr.Seehausen is promising something he knows little about.  He is again making misleading comments aimed at fooling the voter into thinking the present administration is doing something wrong, and he will singlehandedly make it right.  The following is the reality of vehicle stickers.  The devil is in the details, as they say.

While eliminating the vehicle sticker sounds like a great campaign pitch and something every vehicle owner would love, including me.  However, he does not explain how he expects to fill the $260,000.00 hole that action would leave in the Road and Bridge fund.  The sale of vehicle stickers accounts for about 45% of the total revenue for the Road and Bridge fund.  The remainder of the roughly $570,000.00 in total yearly revenue comes from the Road and Bridge real estate tax levy that is made by Crete Township.  This money is used to pave, patch and fix roads, curb repair and replacement, handle drainage issues, trim trees and bushes along road sides, road side mowing, salt, crack sealing, snow plowing, all storm sewer maintenance, street lighting maintenance, vehicle purchases, equipment purchases, vehicle maintenance, leaf pick-up and branch chipping.  Knowing that all of these functions are a necessity of operating and maintaining the Village and assisting the residents, it is easy to see that eliminating the vehicle stickers would be an irresponsible action without a way to replace the revenue.  While the majority of our roads are in “ok” condition, none are what I would call great, and that is because, if anything the Road and Bridge fund is underfunded.  We have a need for more revenue not less, to properly service the 50+ miles of roads in the Village of Crete.  So the $64,000.00 question still remains unanswered; how will Mr. Seehausen fund the elimination of the vehicle sticker?  Does he intend to raise our taxes to pay for his promise?  It has to come from somewhere. 

I believe we do a tremendous job of stretching every dollar of the limited funds we have.  Mr. Seehausen’s proposal is a perfect example of what many call “silly season”, where challengers say anything they can to get elected.  They throw anything at the wall and hope something sticks and hope they fool the voter into believing that the current administration is doing something wrong.  I can assure you that nothing could be further from the truth, and I believe the voters are smarter than Mr. Seehausen thinks.

Water – Your Part in the Pursuit of Quality

I recently posted an article on my blog site that addressed the issue of water quality as it relates to the water that comes from Village wells.  In that article I addressed acquiring lake water and treating the well water we currently have in our system.  In this article, I want to address what the Village currently does to help deliver better quality water to the residents and what the residents themselves can do to help improve their own quality. 

The Village water has naturally occurring iron particles mixed in with the water that comes from our wells and Crete water is naturally slightly acidic in nature.  These iron particles are microscopic in nature and are not harmful to drink.  These particles move along with the water as it is pumped through the system.  If the flow decreases, the particles tend to settle out because they are, after all, iron and iron is heavy.  Consequently, in areas of low flow, which there are many, these particles will settle in the bottom of the water main pipes.  Then, if flow increases dramatically or vibrations reach the pipes, the particles are stirred up and appear as rusty water in your house.  To combat the settling rust or iron particles in the water mains, the Village water department flushes the water system twice a year, spring and fall, by opening every fire hydrant in the town.  By opening the hydrant, we can speed up the flow of water in the mains, stir up the rust particles and flush them from the system.  If we get complaints in certain areas between flushing’s or we determine that other areas need special attention, such as dead end water mains, we flush those areas more frequently to help improve quality.  This is what the Village does to improve overall system water quality.  Now, let’s discuss what the homeowner can do to improve their water quality.

Much like the Village water system, each home or business is like a mini water system all by itself.  The same issues exist in a home as in the larger village system.  If you have low flow areas that don’t get used very often, iron can settle in those pipes also, causing you to have rusty water.  If you only wash clothes once a week, there is a bathroom that never gets used, or the outside valves where you hook up your hose for watering (called a sill cock) never get opened, you will most likely see some rusty water when you finally turn them on.  Keep in mind that flow is what moves the iron particle through your pipes.  So, if you have aerators on your faucets or other things that are meant to reduce flow and save water, you are not going to produce enough flow to move particles that are accumulating in the horizontal piping in your home.  In short, you need to flush your system periodically, just like the village flushes their system.  This is all a part of home ownership when you are on well water.

Here are some common sense suggestions that are easy to do: 

Once a month or so, open the sill cocks around your house all the way and let the water run until no discoloration is noted.  Do this by starting at the faucet closest to the street and flush to the back.  Flush any other raw un-softened water faucets next.  If you have a water softener, which helps remove iron particles, and it is working properly, your system should now be clean.  If you are not using a water softener or it is not working properly, then you should continue to flush the system by opening up all faucets, one at a time, full blast and run them until the water is clear.  This needs to be done at all faucets in the house.  If you have a water softener, make sure it is operating properly and you are keeping salt in the brine tank.  If you fail to supply the softener with salt, it will actually make the quality of your water worse.  If you choose not to use the softener, do not just unplug it.  First operate the bypass valve to stop running raw water through the softener and then unplug it.  All your water will be hard until you begin using the softener again.

Softening the water is a cheap and easy way to improve your overall water quality in the home.  Crete has about 35 grains of hardness for raw water, and if you are purchasing a softener, the person selling it to you would need to know that.  A demand style softener is considered the best, because it only regenerates after a specific amount of water has been run through it.  Older style softeners regenerated on specific days whether it is need or not, regardless of water usage.  It is suggested that you soften the water you use for bathing, washing clothes, and flushing your toilets, while you use hard/raw water to water your lawn or plants and to cook and drink.  If you feel the necessity to filter your water, and you are using a water softener, then the only water that would typically need to be filtered would be for drinking and cooking.

There are several other ways to improve your personal water quality and some can become very expensive to install and maintain.  In the end, it kind of comes down to personal preference and what you are willing to spend.  My personal experience is that softening is the cheapest and easiest way to go, but you still have to do your part to maintain the proper function of the system, including flushing, just like we do with the Village system.

There is one final issue that can have an adverse affect on your water quality and that is the piping in your home or business.  If you do not have copper or plastic water supply pipes, you are most likely going to have difficulties with water quality, no matter what you do.  Steel or iron pipes just don’t work well with hard water, and can be a very significant negative factor in water problems, especially as it relates to rust.  Changing them to copper or plastic will be a great improvement, and softening will help.

It is my sincere hope that this article, and the previous one, have helped to provide significant insight into the question of water quality in Crete.  As always, if you need further information, want to discuss this topic or need assistance from village staff, please feel free to contact me though the village office, 672-5431 or meinhorn@villageofcrete.org via my cell 708-473-2670.  I am here to help.

Mayor is a 24/7 Job

I spend a great deal of time at the Village Hall. I am there at all hours of the day and night as well as on the weekends. Most of the time I am working on something, going over financials, planning, or interacting with the staff to make sure we are functioning properly. Regardless of what I am doing, there is always time to interact with residents. So, if you see my white Impala sitting on the alley side of the building outside the door to the building department, feel free to stop by and tell me what’s on your mind or just chat. Doesn’t matter what time of the day it is either. I am there many times late at night. Just pound on the door or call my cell 473-2670 if it is after hours and I will let you in. Would love to find out what is on your mind. It helps me be a better Mayor. ME

NEW BUSINESS IN CRETE, easier PROMISED than produced

One of the most frequent questions I get as Mayor is, “why can’t we get an XYZ Store to come to Crete, I really like that store.” There appears to be the common misconception that all we (the Village or the Mayor) have to do is call them up or write a letter and boom, they start construction next week. I wish it was that easy, but it is not, and anyone running for office that tells you that, simply has no understanding of how things work. When it comes to attracting new business, converting a starry eyed dream into reality is easier said than done.

There usually is a huge disconnect between what the consumer wants and what businesses want. Consumers tend to run on emotions when determining their preferences for shopping and dining, while most companies make their location choices based on facts, figures and most importantly, whether they make money locating at a particular site. They look at population density, disposable income, competition, and demographics of the potential location, to name just a few. They use specific criteria, and if you don’t meet the criteria, there will not be a XYZ Company in Crete, no matter how much we plead or how much they like the Mayor. They will walk away from free land and incentives if the long term prospect for profit is not there. In many cases with national chains, they make this decision months or even years in advance of actual construction. They also may use developers or brokers that will not disclose their clients. They will insist that everything remain confidential to avoid competitive stores in the same market area from learning their plans.

These same principles for success apply to the small privately owned business as well. The profit motive must be first and foremost in mind when locating a business. If there is no market for your product or service in town “A”, why would you consider starting a business there? This singular fact illustrates why it is difficult to draw new businesses to Crete. Demand and the size of the market are keys to success for any business, along with knowing how to run a successful operation.

The Village of Crete is always looking for additional businesses to come to our Village. However, care must be taken to make sure that the businesses provide a positive impact to the Village and the atmosphere we are trying to develop. As residents, you are perfect ambassadors for the Village to the outside business world, by speaking positively about our area and the values of locating here.

DON’T TAKE A CHANCE ON CAMPAIGN PROMISES
VOTE FOR PROVEN PERFORMANCE
RE-ELECT MIKE EINHORN VILLAGE PRESIDENT

Snow Plowing 101

I just heard the weather forecast and it looks like we may finally get some snow that we can measure.  With that thought in mind, I decided that it was a good time to remind everyone that parks on the street, you need to have your vehicle off the street anytime the snow fall exceeds 2”, until the street has been plowed.  Kind of a common sense rule in my book.  It allows us to get things cleaned up in a timely fashion, which in turn saves money.

As long as we are on the subject of plowing, it may be a good time to explain just how we plow snow.  Basically, the Department of Public Works (DPW) has different routes set up around the entire town.  Each driver has his area of responsibility.  In any given area, we go after the main roads first, followed by the secondary roads and then the dead ends, cul-de-sacs and alleys last.  If possible, the guys try to wait until the snow is over before they start to plow, but every event is different.  We also like to start plowing very early in the morning, so we have less traffic to contend with.  You will hear the plow go by from the warmth of your bed.  Once everything is plowed, the last thing we do is apply salt.  At $50-$60 per ton, we use good judgment as to how much and where we apply salt.  Certain intersections and dangerous areas will get more than other areas.  Please keep in mind that salt only works until the temperature gets down in the low teens.

Depending on the amount of snow we get, the very last thing we do is push the corners back and then clean up the downtown area, so that parking is better along Main Street and the piles of snow along the curb are removed for better pedestrian access.  With narrow sidewalks along the back of the curb in the downtown area, heavy snows can be a problem for the downtown.  We monitor the situation and take appropriate action and the business owners generally do a very good job of keeping their walks clear, and if there is a specific problem area, a simple call to the Village office will usually get the situation handled in short order.  I have personally plowed snow many times over the years and its fun for about the first hour and then it gets old in a hurry.  They usually give me the small trucks to use or the payloader.  They also usually assign me to do cul-de-sacs, alleys or parking lots.  I think that’s because no one like to do those areas, because they are difficult and time consuming.  Sometimes I go out when everyone else from DPW has gone home for rest.  I just try to keep the main roads open until the manpower is rested and return to work.  And that’s it for Snow Plowing 101!