Editorials

If we have to play the TIF game, this is the way to play it

Mayor Eckert talks about potential $1.2 million TIF grant for Auffenberg Ford

Belleville officials are considering a proposal to give $1.2 million in TIF money to Auffenberg Ford if the dealership spends $1.5 million to renovate the building.
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Belleville officials are considering a proposal to give $1.2 million in TIF money to Auffenberg Ford if the dealership spends $1.5 million to renovate the building.

We’ve never been crazy about TIF districts. But the Belleville City Council made a logical decision when it approved $1.2 million in TIF money for Auffenberg Ford.

In return, Auffenberg will spend at least $2 million renovating its dealership and stay in business in Belleville for at least 15 years. Auffenberg expects to have annual sales of about $24 million, and the city receives 1 percent of the sales tax on car sales. That would be about $240,000 in sales tax revenue per year for the city — enough to cover the $1.2 million in just five years.

If Auffenberg fails to meet any of its responsibilities such as remaining in business for 15 years, the company must repay all of the TIF money it received, according to the development agreement.

The purpose of TIFs is to encourage development in blighted areas. The dealership’s location on South Illinois Street, which is in the TIF 3 district, isn’t exactly an area of shiny new development.

Mayor Mark Eckert says Auffenberg, which has been in business in Belleville for 60 years, hasn’t threatened to leave, “but I think the reality is if we can’t strike a deal, we could lose Auffenberg, and I don’t think the city of Belleville can afford to lose a car dealership. We’re down to the last three.”

If the area around Auffenberg isn’t blighted now, it definitely would be considered blighted with an empty car dealership at its center. And this isn’t a situation where some mega-corporation is asking for money to build a big-box store on an empty field along an interstate.

Alderman Kent Randle said taxpayers are having to foot too much of the bill for the project. “We need to stop thinking of TIF as an entitlement for the private sector,” he said.

We get that argument. We don’t like it that communities are put in situations where they have to engage in TIF bidding wars with neighboring communities, in order to keep or attract businesses. But if we’re going to engage in the TIF game, this is the proper way to play it: Using the money to keep an established corporate citizen that will produce jobs and tax revenue for years to come, and working to improve an area that needs it.

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