7 metro-east cities and fire districts fail to file TIF reports

News-DemocratNovember 30, 2013 

Seven cities and fire districts in St. Clair and Madison counties have not submitted reports detailing the spending of taxes collected within tax increment financing districts to the state's comptroller as required by law, according to a report from the Illinois Comptroller's Office.

The Comptroller's Office, in its most recent report, states East St. Louis, Washington Park, Brooklyn and New Douglas have not filed such reports. Also, the Collinsville Fire District, Brooklyn Fire District and Garden Fire Protection District have not filed the required reports.

Washington Park Mayor Angie Rodgers, who began serving on May 7, said her administration would fully cooperate with the state in providing the financial reports. Officials with the other cities and fire districts could not be reached for comment.

"This administration since May 7, 2013, is transparent. Anyone walks in now you are going to find the books," Rodgers said. "We are cooperating and my position is we will always cooperate when dealing with the comptroller and IRS (Internal Revenue Service). We have to be in compliance. We understand that. Period."

Rodgers said she has been pushing for village officials to comply with the state law since she was a trustee in 2009 but was told at the time the village was in compliance.

State Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka has asked the Illinois State's Attorney General Lisa Madigan to intervene after Washington Park officials never submitted reports detailing spending of tax dollars within a TIF district created in 2004.

Scott Mulford with the Illinois Attorney General's Office declined to comment on the pending investigation into the financial reports of Washington Park.

Many of the required reports are years past deadlines set by state law. For example, Brooklyn officials have not yet submitted a report and audit due in 2001.

The annual reports and audits are intended to provide transparency to the spending of property taxes collected within tax increment financing districts. The annual reports are required under state law to be submitted to the Illinois Comptroller's Office, which posts the reports online.

County records show more than $3.6 million in property taxes have been steered toward TIF district funds in Washington Park since 2005. And East St. Louis officials have not submitted reports and audits detailing the collection and spending of about $15.7 million in property taxes for the past two fiscal years.

Brad Hahn with the Illinois Comptroller's Office said the reports are important because they allow taxpayers to track how their money is spent.

"These are taxpayer dollars. The comptroller (Judy Baar Topinka) continues to stress the more transparent government is the more responsible government officials will be with taxpayer dollars," Hahn said.

Statewide, 97 cities, fire districts, park districts and townships have not filed the required reports, according to the comptroller report. Cities do not face any penalties for failing to submit the reports and audits.

Brian Costin with the Illinois Policy Institute, a nonpartisan research group based in Springfield, said statewide reform is needed to ensure cities follow TIF transparency laws. One solution put forth by the Illinois Policy Institute calls for the state legislature to deny state-supported bond sales for cities not following the law.

"Existing law isn't strong enough to compel local governments to be transparent. We are putting a line in the sand," Costin said, adding, "If you are not going to be accountable to taxpayers, then you have to put your house in order before you start spending more money. We need to force people to pay attention by making them unable to do any more projects before accounting for projects already done."

The state comptroller's office has created a website hosting TIF-related audits and reports for municipalities statewide at www.warehouse.illinoiscomptroller.com. The site also allows users to compare cities.

Hahn said the intention is for numerous "sets of eyes in a community" to have the information available to hold government more accountable.

"When residents are not paying attention, the more loose government may be with taxpayer dollars," Hahn said. "The comptroller (Topinka) believes these reports and audits should not only be available but accessible. The more people are checking into government spending, the better off we're all going to be."

Contact reporter Daniel Kelley at dkelley@bnd.com or 618-239-2501.

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