McHenry passes economic incentive program

McHENRY – An economic development incentive tool designed to fill empty McHenry storefronts was added to the books Monday evening.

The program outlines the application process for businesses looking to offset the costs of rehabbing existing buildings by abating a portion of the subsequently increased property taxes.

City staff has approached other area taxing bodies about the program to see if they'd be receptive to signing on, said Deputy City Administrator Doug Martin, who oversees the city's Community and Economic Development Department.

Any abatement would require formal approval by the McHenry City Council and any other local taxing bodies affected, meaning Monday's approval of the policy is not a financial commitment by the city or any other entity, he said.

The terms of each proposed abatement would be based on that particular business and would include clawback provisions in case a business left before the end of the agreement.

"This is just another avenue to try to get something to spark," Alderman Richard Wimmer said. "It's an effort that we've got to try. What else is there?"

The policy has "more muscle" with the other entities involved, Alderman Bob Peterson added.

Those other entities are still an unknown, although, said Alderman Andy Glab, who ultimately voted in favor of the policy but wanted to wait to vote until the program had been presented to the boards of the other entities.

So far, staff has only discussed the program with administrators.

"It seems like we're a little quick on the draw with this," Glab said. "I honestly feel that it's a great program if it works, but I don't want to have this out on our website and then find that some taxing bodies do have a problem with it."

Glab also questioned whether the policy could be used with undeveloped property.

While abatements can be approved for any property, Martin said the policy was specifically designed to address trouble spots, including the two remaining vacant big-box stores, the former Walmart and Sears stores.

Because Walmart has certain restrictions on who it considers as potential buyers, the building may have to be divided up – a cost that gives some developers pause, Martin said.

"It's much more difficult to fill a large, vacant building than to build on a flat piece of ground with no building on it," he said.

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