Editorials

Taxpayers’ money down the hole in Shiloh

There were happy faces in 2002 when they broke ground to build Dierbergs and the Green Mount Crossing shopping center in Shiloh. Now the mine beneath a strip of stores is collapsing and more than $10 million in work is needed.
There were happy faces in 2002 when they broke ground to build Dierbergs and the Green Mount Crossing shopping center in Shiloh. Now the mine beneath a strip of stores is collapsing and more than $10 million in work is needed. tvizer@bnd.com

Shiloh village trustees just agreed to impose a 1 percent sales tax for 23 years, with a cap of $6 million, on part of the Green Mount Crossing shopping center. Dierbergs and the stores in line with it on the southern edge of the development are sinking because an old coal mine beneath them is collapsing.

Dierbergs is spending more than $10 million to fix the issue by having a concrete-like substance pumped into the mine to stabilize it. They asked the village for help dealing with the cost.

Village leaders see this as protecting their cash cow, the “single largest sales tax contributor, and without that it would be devastating,” Shiloh Mayor Jim Vernier said.

Doing it through a sales tax is relatively painless for the village. Shoppers pay the tax over time, so there is little impact on village finances.

Shiloh Treasurer Bill Boker said while the village may not have an obligation to help a business, it does have an obligation to protect village-related assets and revenue streams. “I think if the village doesn’t work with the village businesses it sends a chilling message to current businesses and future developers,” he wrote.

But what about the message to those developing undermined land, which is much of Southwestern Illinois? They are making big money decisions about site selection, mine remediation and insurance coverage. Who will spend the money up front to protect against the possibility of sinking if they can gamble and expect a taxpayer bailout if they lose later?

Developers have an obligation to get the engineering, insurance and remediation sorted out ahead of construction. Shiloh leaders made an understandable decision that is also a dangerous precedent. Taxpayers in other municipalities should let their representatives know now how they’d feel about a similar rescue effort — before they get that sinking feeling.

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