Banquet hall putsch: Belleville eyes TIF costs

Belleville’s map of Tax Increment Financing districts includes District 3 in brown, covering much of the city.
Belleville’s map of Tax Increment Financing districts includes District 3 in brown, covering much of the city. Provided

The political parties may be gone, but all those independents in Belleville City Hall seem to be forming alliances. They appear to want to make a TIF-erence.

On Monday we saw a 10-minute speech by Alderman Kent Randle on problems with the city’s tax increment financing practices, how the system eats dollars and the resulting neglect of the city’s basic needs such as filling potholes. He discussed how nearly 60 percent of his property tax bill has historically gone into Tax Increment Financing District 3, a massive district that stretches through most of the city, yet there is not money for the many resurfacing projects needed in his ward.

The vote was 8-7 on up to $27,000 in reimbursement and $8,000 in construction material sales tax rebates for Bellecourt Place. Owners Tim and Shari Faltus need to make the old church they use as a banquet hall accessible for handicapped patrons, per the Belleville fire chief, so they are spending $189,000 on an elevator and other improvements.

Everyone involved was careful to point out that they have nothing against the Faltuses or Bellecourt Place, but rather that this was an issue that was raised before when the city was looking at a motel tax for the big development at the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows. They may not have won this time, but there is a continuing insurrection and an agenda that is going to make life interesting in Belleville.

Tax Increment Financing districts pull in the lion’s share of property taxes. They create a vacuum that either new taxes must fill or else old needs go wanting — as the new aldermen are pointing out.

Additionally, Belleville is swapping money between districts with little effort to repay: $271,000 is owed District 17. If that practice were OK, then there would just be one citywide district instead of 18.

The districts were designed to redevelop blighted areas, but in reality they put government in the position of picking winners and losers within the business community. Too often tax increments help developments that would likely have been built anyway, and they let municipalities bribe businesses away from each other.

Imagine the quality of city streets and sidewalks with a 60 percent boost in property taxes or if the $10.4 million in the funds were suddenly released. Stay tuned: The revolution will be televised.