Taxpayers always get hosed by the loose interpretation of Illinois Tax Increment Financing (TIF) laws, but a resolution passed by the Swansea Village Board last January set off a four-alarm round of questions.
Namely, what were they thinking and why didn’t their decision to allocate $170,000 in TIF dollars toward the purchase of a new fire truck trip the sirens any earlier?
TIFs, by the spirit of the law, are intended to stoke the flames of economic development in areas that are otherwise blighted. The letter of the law, as we’ve seen time and again, leaves open to interpretation what “blighted” exactly means.
It’s pretty clear, though, that TIFs apply to real estate, not vehicles. Was part of the engine house garage unsightly before they parked the new fire engine there? Does the roadway become “blighted” beneath the truck as it passes over?
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Springfield attorney Esther Seitz, who fielded the complaint about the resolution from former Swansea mayor Jim Rauckman, states pretty plainly where fire engines fit into TIF.
“Critically, vehicles are not included anywhere in the definition” of TIF, Seitz wrote in a letter to the village.
Swansea trustees might have known this had they bothered to consult their own attorney prior to buying the $340,000 100-foot platform ladder truck. But John Kurowski, who prior to May had served as the village attorney for 28 years, was never asked for his legal opinion.
Neither was his law partner, Jerry Warchol, or the Illinois Tax Increment Association. Trustees have too many resources at their disposal to use ignorance of complicated TIF law as their smoke screen.
We’re glad the village is looking out for the safety of its residents by reviewing what equipment its fire department needs and making necessary upgrades. It just has to look elsewhere for the funding.
In the meantime, the only way out of this is as Rauckman suggested, which is to reimburse the Swansea TIF fund the $170,000 that was misallocated. While we’re at it, we’d further suggest that all municipalities extinguish that burning temptation to distort TIF into their own local slush funds.