I would like to address the recent editorial criticizing the use of tax increment financing funds to finish work on Belleville City Hall renovations. The renovation of public or private buildings is a legal and eligible TIF expense clearly identified in the TIF statute. Renovation of public buildings with TIF funds is a common practice throughout the country. Renovations are not being done to revamp City Hall for all cosmetic reasons. Changes are being done both out of necessity to legally comply with Americans with Disabilities Act requirements and to abate the asbestos that is present throughout much of the building, as well as replacing roofs that have been leaking for many years. Safety and security upgrades will also be installed. City Hall is a necessary facility.
Without a functional epicenter for city government, Belleville would not be able to work efficiently with businesses to provide a viable community for our citizens. These improvements are long overdue and these renovations will help us better serve our businesses and all residents in the years ahead. Use of TIF funding for this project has been publicly contemplated and approved by the City Council for more than the last two years.
Additionally, the East-West Gateway Council study identified Belleville as a community that uses TIF effectively. Belleville adheres to the legal restrictions on how TIF funds can be spent. Furthermore, Belleville is not alone in its use of TIF and it is not a “slush fund.” The city is annually audited, and has never been issued any adverse findings related to its use of TIF funding. TIF helps the city make up for funds it would otherwise not have to put towards infrastructure construction, demolitions and these necessary renovations.
In regard to the necessity of additional funds, it has become apparent that the presence of asbestos is greater than originally estimated. Its removal is again, not a choice, but required for the continued health and safety of city employees and citizens. Finally, the replacement of the boiler was not initially included in the estimate because it was considered an add-on item, or something to replace if other costs ran low. It was also originally thought that if it could not fit in this budget it could last several more years, and be incorporated into a future budget, but as with many projects, the full picture is difficult to determine until a project is underway. Nevertheless, while additional improvements were not in the original project scope, neither was the cost of such work. In other words, the city would have to bear the cost of this work whether it was included in the original project scope then or added now. Using TIF 3 to make up the difference and ensure the building of City Hall is both in compliance with ADA and a safe place is nothing but a proper way to utilize TIF funds for the costs of important renovations.
Mark W. Eckert is mayor of the City of Belleville, serving since 2004. He is seeking his fourth term in April.