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School district set for legal fight against Crest Hill TIF

Crest Hill City Hall
Crest Hill City Hall

CREST HILL – The Richland School District 1 Board on Wednesday voted to take legal action to block Crest Hill from using a financing tool increasingly being used in many communities to divert local tax dollars for business development.

Crest Hill is in the process of implementing the city’s first tax increment financing districts, something the mayor said is needed to compete with neighboring towns for new businesses.

But Richland school officials said one of the TIF districts would freeze them out of potential property tax revenue from more than 400 acres of prime commercial land along Weber Road.

“We are not against business development,” District 1 board President Stephanie Hernandez said. “We do want business here. But we want the district to be part of the growth also. We don’t think it has to be either-or.”

TIF districts set aside increased property tax revenue that comes from land development for 23 years and make the money available to offset development costs and provide incentives for more business. While school districts and other taxing bodies continue to receive property tax dollars already coming off the land before the TIF is established, any increased tax revenue goes to the city to be used for business development.

The Crest Hill City Council in November approved two TIF districts.

One is in an area of Plainfield Road that lies east of Larkin Avenue, an older commercial district that extends to city hall.

The other is 413 acres along Weber Road from Caton Farm Road to Division Street.

The District 1 board voted, 7-0, to authorize the law firm of Klein, Thorpe and Jenkins to take legal action regarding the Weber Road TIF.

A study of the Weber Road TIF estimated that tax revenue would grow from $213,000 today to at least $4 million over the next 23 years.

Hernandez said a lawsuit could be filed within a week but also said school officials “hope to have more dialog” with Crest Hill.

Mayor Ray Soliman said Crest Hill needs the TIF districts to compete with other towns for business growth and to combat a trend of declining land values in the city’s prime commercial area.

Joliet, Lockport, Plainfield and other surrounding towns all have TIF districts, Soliman said.

“We have never had a TIF district,” he said. “This is the first time we have had TIF districts. We thought we were at a disadvantage in offering incentives to developers.”

The Weber Road TIF district includes the land around the Menards shopping center and open land across from the Diocese of Joliet office campus.

“We are trying all of our options to incentivize development on that Weber Road corridor,” Soliman said.

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