Guest view: TIF district that qualifies for funding police should be used for that purpose

The Belleville News-Democrat polled residents of Belleville in 2013 and essentially asked “what is the most important issue” in Belleville. Residents wanted more police officers. I suspect that opinion hasn’t changed.

The subject of Belleville abusing tax increment financing has been well-documented. TIF can be a useful tool when the money is reinvested in the betterment of our city. That is wherein lies my biggest issue with TIF. The manner in which these TIF funds are spent is highly questionable.

Our streets and sidewalks continue to deteriorate and TIF dollars continue to get spent in other places.

We continue to have a great need for more police officers, even though a few have been added primarily for use in the Housing Department. If we don’t have a feeling of living in the safest possible community, we have nothing. Hot spot policing has proven effective. But first you have to have enough police officers. We do not.

Here comes another TIF. Most residents probably hate it. Let’s face it, with all the misinformation we get from aldermen waiving receipts from other stores and the complexity of TIF, how could we possibly go along with it? There is monumental difference between sales tax and property tax. Putting out a blanket statement that we pay more in taxes in Belleville than every other surrounding town is just delusional. It’s irresponsible to present sales tax receipts as if that is the only form of a municipalities income.

Tearing down derelict buildings or giving money to grocery conglomerates, in my mind is not good use of TIF dollars. I have asked before about using TIF dollars for the betterment of our police department. Remember, not one penny of your property tax bill goes to police or fire protection. The lion’s share for police and fire payrolls comes from sales tax (obviously, when a purchase is made).

For the first time, Belleville will be able to use these TIF funds for police officers. I don’t know why this hasn’t been mentioned. Maybe there is some secret project we don’t know about yet? The new TIF agreement the city is formulating for development of property owned by the Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows could have a very fruitful benefit to the residents of Belleville. I don’t believe TIF should be used for every development that comes down the pike. But more importantly, citizens should ask, “What’s in it for me?”

How about more police officers?

After all, that is what we have been asking for. This will be the first and only TIF district that will qualify for funding police.

There is Illinois law already in place. Belleville meets the requirement of being contiguous to two of these municipalities:

65 ILCS 5/11-74.4-12, Sec. 11-74.4-12. Metro East Police District. A municipality may use moneys from the special tax allocation fund to hire police officers if the corporate authorities of the municipality determine by ordinance or resolution that, as a result of the development associated with the tax increment financing, more police officers are needed to protect the public health and safety of the residents, and the municipality is: (i) within the territory of the Metro East Police District created under the Metro East Police District Act, or (ii) contiguous to two or more municipalities within the territory of the Metro East Police District and having a population of more than 5,000 inhabitants, according to the 2000 federal census. The moneys used to hire police officers may amount to no more than 10 percent of the funds available.

(Source: P.A. 97-971, eff. 1-1-13.)

I still have great concern for the survival of Belleville Crossing (Target & Home Depot). It’s too bad that a developer doesn’t want to come closer to where we all live and shop. That is probably due to the lack of having had an economic developer like most cities our size have. Green Mount Crossing is wonderful, too, but it left us with a huge vacant building and sparsely occupied shopping center.

Is it a perfect scenario? No. Time will tell how successful it is by what the money is spent on. Instead of wasting TIF funds, get us more police officers rather than another pull barn and calling it a grocery store.