Local

Lakewood votes to abolish TIF district under newly elected board

Lakewood Village President Paul Serwatka
Lakewood Village President Paul Serwatka

LAKEWOOD – At a packed Village Board meeting Tuesday night, Lakewood trustees voted 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 the April election handed all four open seats – village president and three trustee seats – to a slate that made eliminating the TIF a top priority.

“I feel actually stronger about killing it right now than I did two and a half years [ago] when I started the fight,” Lakewood Village President Paul Serwatka said at Tuesday’s meeting. 

Serwatka’s Lakewood Tax-Fighter Party now controls four of the six trustee seats besides the presidency.

Trustees Amy Fues Odom, Philip Stephan, Richard Ritchie and Patrick Rexroat – who was sworn in at Tuesday’s meeting to fill the seat Serwatka vacated to run for president – voted “yes” to end the TIF. Trustee J. Carl Davis voted against it, and Trustee Jason McMahon, who has previously said more discussion is needed on the TIF to make a smart decision, was absent. 

The vote was met with applause from the audience. 

Serwatka has 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.

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 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 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.

Public comment revolved around the TIF, and about a dozen people spoke.

“TIF districts work,” Lakewood resident George Mueller said. “Ask the businesses in downtown Crystal Lake.” 

Mueller said that in the long term, the TIF could bring in development and save taxpayers money. Others who spoke disagreed. 

“Somehow everyone’s decided that we have to have a business base to keep us alive, and I don’t believe that for a minute,” Lakewood resident Cheryl Lockwood said. “I think we just have to pull on our belts, do our work and have a wonderful village.”

Davis voted in favor of creating the TIF in 2015. At Tuesday’s meeting, he said the decision to end it is not as simple as some are making it seem. 

“Why don’t we make this a tool for us to use instead of just throwing it out?” Davis said. 

Serwatka said other options had been discussed, but none would land the village in a good place financially.

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