Mayoral candidates discuss Tax Increment Financing

By Ali Combs

Tax Increment Financing (TIF) districts and the role of Re:New DeKalb are two of the issues DeKalb’s four mayoral candidates face.

TIF districts are blighted areas the city designates to fund economic redevelopment. Re:New DeKalb is a not-for-profit organization created to enhance redevelopment efforts in downtown DeKalb by advising the City Council on allocations of TIF funds.

Mayoral candidate Jennifer Groce said TIF districts should be looked at on a case-by-case basis and TIF’s can be good tools for economic development when used properly.

“Each TIF should be looked at individually because each TIF should be set up for its own reason,” Groce said. “It’s my understanding that at times we’ve used TIF dollars, as was recently reported, for some things that may be considered general maintenance of the city because of the financial constraints in the city’s revenue. I would hope we could look at our TIF’s and make them work to accomplish goals and improve those areas.”

Groce said organizations like Re:New DeKalb can provide knowledge to the city regarding development and investment.

“One of the things our city needs is an enhanced economic strategy and plan,” Groce said. “I would like to see organizations like Re:New contribute to those needs by using expertise and insight as a part of helping city with those efforts to enhance the strategies I’ve laid out.”

Mayoral candidate David Jacobson said he thinks the city has gone off track with TIF funding in the past few years and needs new direction.

“I think we have definitely gone astray from what TIF is intended and expected to do,” Jacobson said. “Most especially now with investment in public buildings: school district, library, city hall. It boasts for economic development and help in projects that help development in the private sector, to make it possible for the private sector to get involved, and putting that money into public buildings really doesn’t count for that.”

Jacobson said he thinks Re:New DeKalb had good intentions and organizations like Re:New may have a place in DeKalb, but it has been unsuccessful thus far.

“It may have been, at the beginning, that one of the projects was the exact correct definition of TIF’s in terms of infrastructure and investing into an area in the public side to explore public investment,” Jacobson said. “Unfortunately, that area was a failure … There is room for a group out there, and that might make sense, but I don’t know if it’s Re:New. I don’t think, however, unless they can prove they are doing something that is certainly TIF eligible, that they should continue receiving TIF funds from the budget.”

Mayoral candidate John Rey said he thinks the funds have the potential to boost development in the private sector.

“I think the TIF funds have been used to stimulate property tax growth in the community,” Rey said. “I think the TIF funding, used properly, would then foster private investment. I think we’ve done a good job focusing on public projects like infrastructure and underground utilities in the downtown. I think those remaining TIF monies need to be available to existing as well as new businesses, and existing businesses need to be given equal priority to new business.”

Rey said he thinks Re:New has done a satisfactory job in projects up until this point but the organization needs to expand its scope.

“I think for the scope of the project that was done, Re:New has done a reasonably good job with the allocation of funds,” Rey said. “The one concern I have is that I think the Re:New initiative needs to, at this point, include private development in downtown … I would like to see Re:New engage in a larger representation of stakeholders in a meaningful way.”

Mayoral candidate Mike Verbic said that the city has not used TIF funds appropriately over the last few years and there are actions the city can take to improve.

“The city has not properly utilized TIF funding,” Verbic said. “With the public investment we saw in the downtown area of over $10 million, it should have been matched or exceeded with private investment, and it was not.”

Verbic said community involvement would help put the TIF’s to better use.

“The city could make better use of TIF funds by engaging the public early in the process and performing an appropriate financial analysis on the past TIF efforts, following through with joint review board meetings which would include partnering governing bodies that the TIF affects, such as the school district,” Verbic said. “We must be more aggressive in attracting business and industry that provide a livable wage and meaningful benefits to our citizens.”

Verbic said private investment is crucial to the continuation of Re:New DeKalb and the organization should be focused on the city on a broader scale.

“Re:New should involve the whole city of DeKalb, taking and measuring priorities as led by our citizens to where the most blighted locations exits, as the first priority of TIF is to restore blighted areas,” Verbic said. “It should be in regard to the whole community, rather than just downtown … Re:New should not continue without the commitment of private investment.”