Government

New Lakewood Village Board poised to abolish TIF district

Lakewood Village President Paul Serwatka
Lakewood Village President Paul Serwatka

LAKEWOOD – The new political party that assumed majority control of the Village Board will vote Tuesday to abolish the village’s tax increment financing district at Routes 47 and 176.

A previous Village Board created the TIF in 2015 to help spur economic development at the intersection on the west side of town.

But voters in last April’s election handed all four open seats – village president and three trustee seats – to a slate that made eliminating the TIF a top priority.

Village President Paul Serwatka sent a letter May 31 to all 14 taxing bodies whose boundaries cross the TIF informing them of the Village Board’s intent to vote on eliminating it. His Lakewood Tax-Fighter Party now controls three of the six trustee seats besides the presidency, and will control a fourth as of Tuesday’s meeting with the appointing of a new member, making the abolition of the TIF almost certain.

Serwatka called the TIF a bad deal for Lakewood taxpayers, who already have spent $200,000 on it, and called TIFs in general nothing more than taxpayer subsidy of developers and government picking winners and losers.

“We’ve looked at so many different scenarios, and it just puts undue risk on the taxpayers of Lakewood,” Serwatka said.

A TIF works by freezing the property values that local governments can levy taxes on, and then placing the taxes collected on any added property value into a special fund that can be used by the village for a variety of reasons – village officials and former village trustees who supported the TIF said extending water and sewer to the area would top the list of priorities.

The 600-acre TIF is centered on the joint stretch of Routes 47 and 176 between the two intersections where they branch off. It includes land for the proposed Chicagoland Sportsplex facility at Route 47 and Pleasant Valley Road, a sprawling mix of sports fields and facilities that have caused about as much controversy among residents as the TIF has.

Another point of contention among opponents was a 2016 agreement between the Village Board and Woodstock-based School District 200 meant to stave off a threatened lawsuit by the district over the TIF. Under the intergovernmental agreement, the village would be responsible for reimbursing District 200 at least $8,680, increased annually for inflation, for each student residing in whatever housing would be built in the TIF district. District officials said it would be unfair to be responsible for educating new students without the tax revenue from the development to cover the costs.

Trustee Jason McMahon will be one of the few voices at Tuesday’s meeting against repealing the TIF. He said more discussion is needed to make a smart decision, and he called the impending vote “a political move just meant to fulfill a promise without really realizing what the ramifications are.”

“Sales tax is one of the very few sources of revenue that Lakewood has to pull from that doesn’t specifically come from our residents,” McMahon said. “The more retail we have, and the more sales tax we get, the better we can adjust our levy.”

One of the reasons McMahon will be a minority voice Tuesday is because the TIF and the sportsplex fueled the shift in power on the Village Board.

Serwatka filed to run for trustee as a write-in candidate shortly after the January 2015 vote to create the TIF – he won the most votes and upset an incumbent. He won the seat of village president in this year’s April election, as did his party’s trustee candidates, Amy Fues Odom, Philip Stephan and Richard Ritchie.

What’s more, the board on Tuesday will vote to appoint new party member Patrick Rexroat to fill the seat Serwatka vacated to run for president. That leaves McMahon and Trustee J. Carl Davis, who voted in 2015 in favor of creating the TIF.

Davis is the only trustee left from that vote – McMahon was appointed in January by the outgoing village president to fill the remaining term of Ken Santowski, who abruptly resigned his seat. Santowski in 2015 was the sole trustee to vote against the TIF.

Tuesday’s meeting starts at 7 p.m. at RedTail Golf Club, 7900 RedTail Drive.

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