In a couple of weeks the Belleville City Council will vote on whether to give away $200,000 in TIF money. Where is this money going? It's not going to help any existing business in the city. It is going to help the Kroger Co. in demolishing the old Bel-Air Bowl site for the construction of a discount grocery store.
If you think this is a good deal for Belleville, it is not. If there was an economic development plan, which there is not, we could refer to it. We would see where a discount grocery store fits. We would ask "Is this the best use of $200,000?" Is this truly the most important thing for the residents who live in TIF 3 and the rest of Belleville?
There has been no outcry for another discount grocery store. If the economic development plan is to wait for someone to come to us and tell us what to do, it is working very well. Does this grocery store company even know about the other empty buildings in Belleville that don't need to be demolished at our cost?
In addition, during the Jan. 7 council meeting, most of the aldermen were first informed of the mayor's negotiations to purchase the Loflin Furniture property at Illinois 157 and West Main Street for $159,000. No appraisal was completed on this property. There were no estimates of demolition costs.
No estimates were discussed as to the cost to beautify the property.
The cost of these two projects, Bel-Air demolition and Loflin property, could be more than $450,000, all paid for from the TIF 3 account. What kind of precedence does this set for future TIF proposals and unwanted properties?
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to analyze the reasons for all of this activity right before an election. These financial decisions are not supported by a comprehensive plan. There hasn't been a comprehensive plan for more than seven years. The current plan is: "What will make us look good today?" with little or no consideration for small business, which is the backbone of Belleville.
Sales made at this new grocery store will only mean fewer sales for Main Street Market, Shop 'n' Save, Farmer's Market, Save-A-Lot, Farm Fresh and Schnuck's, which are either family owned or longtime Belleville businesses.
It is time to end the secrecy and start evaluating how and where money should be spent to best serve the residents of Belleville. TIFs will not just disappear, but decisions on how TIF money is spent must be discussed and analyzed to make sure Belleville is getting the most out of these expenditures.
I would like to see a TIF committee formed to help make these decisions. We must become more accountable for the spending of this money.
Belleville should have a plan for a business to come here. We need new businesses that don't need the taxpayers to front them $200,000. We must continue to support our current established business while enticing new business to come to our community. New business coming into Belleville sounds great, but what is this costing the taxpayers? Just as importantly, where does it fit in our city's list of needs?
If such a list existed it would likely have "up-to-date police equipment and facilities" at the top. Shouldn't public safety be a place where TIF money should be spent first?
This TIF 3 money was not budgeted because there is no budget or priority list. It is my sincere hope to start working on a TIF budget in May. We need a new vision for our community that embraces an economic development plan, a check-and-balance attitude toward expenditures, and some creativeness in recruiting new business to our area. We must utilize and support the great community of business owners and citizens we have now and secure a successful, thriving future for generations to come.
Phil Elmore is an alderman in Belleville Ward 7 and a candidate for mayor.