School board looks for ways to spend TIF money

By Stewart Warren

School board members are looking for other ways to spend money from DeKalb’s Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district on the local school system.

The school board held open forums explaining TIF and its possible uses at area schools for the Parent Teacher Association (PTA) and the public on Feb. 5, 7 and 8.

Recently the board consulted Kai Nebel, a Chicago lawyer who helped write the TIF legislation, to find out exactly how loosely the TIF guidelines could be interpreted, DeKalb School Superintendent Jack Deere said.

Deere said Nebel’s interpretation of TIF would let them use TIF money to fund improvements in DeKalb High School’s vocational area.

The General Assembly established TIF Districts to allow cities to collect taxes from a specific district and return the funds to the district instead of the state.

TIF money is primarily intended for “bricks and mortar” projects such as buildings or roads, DeKalb Assistant City Manager Gary Boden said in an earlier interview.

Some taxes from property in the TIF district also go into the TIF fund, he said. If not for the TIF district the property taxes would fund the schools, Boden said.

TIF funds can only be spent in the boundaries of the district and the ways the money can be spent are limited by the state, he said.

Only two buildings owned by the DeKalb School District, the Clinton-Rosette Middle School, 650 N. First St., and the School Board Administrative Center, 145 Fisk Ave., are in the TIF district, Deere said.

He said TIF money would be spent best by remodeling Clinton-Rosette’s lunchroom and some classrooms or by building a new school administrative center.

The current administrative center is a “liability” to the city because of the asbestos in the building and the problems with the bricks around the building, Deere said.

The school board provided a rough estimate of $681,000 to repair the administrative building and $1.2 million to construct a new building.

Deere said though the Board has considered repairing the building “we don’t feel that is an appropriate use of funds and the finance advisory committee advises us not to do that … we feel it would be pouring money down a rat hole.”