Charles Street controversy and mayoral candidates

Charles Street controversy and mayoral candidates

By Shellie Berg

By Shellie Berg

Staff Reporter

Independent mayoral candidate Larry Morrissey finally obtained answers from the city he requested in December on the Charles Street realignment via the Freedom of Information Act.

Morrissey and the other three candidates, Independent Guy Spinello, Democrat Doug Scott and Republican Dennis Johnson, related their opinions on the proposed project.

At a December Planning and Development Committee meeting, Alderman Victory Bell (D-5) told Morrissey he would have to submit a written request, which he composed and sent the following day.

At the City Council meeting Feb. 5, Bell mentioned the city should answer Morrissey’s concerns, but Mayor Charles Box said he didn’t want to get caught in the election by having those answered at the meeting. Later in the week, city administrator Einar Forsman provided the answers.

Morrissey asked whether the Rockford City Council has approved the repayment of Seventh Street TIF money in the $6 million in bonds.

Forsman said the funding evolves from general-obligation bonds with the primary repayment source for debt service being in the Seventh Street TIF, which was approved Aug. 22.

He said the city followed normal public hearing requirements for the sale of bonds Oct. 22, but no individuals or groups were there to speak against the bonds or financial resources necessary for repayment.

Morrissey was inquisitive as to how long it would take to refund the TIF district. Forsman noted the debt service is structured for repayment until the Seventh Street TIF is retained, which is until 2015.

Morrissey also wanted to know how much the project will cost the TIF district yearly. The average debt payment will be $600,000 yearly, Forsman said. He asserted that not only taxpayers will pay for the project, but residents outside the district will also fund the cost.

“I must also point out that any increment development through the TIF over its life has remained exclusively for projects improvements in the TIF,” Forsman said. “Therefore, when road referendums are passed, the increase in tax revenue in the TIF stays in the TIF and does not go to support the road improvements in the TIF or citywide.”

Morrissey also questioned how much the city will generate from new projects that will develop as a result of the project. Forsman said the city should have $200,000 available yearly for other TIF uses, but the amount may fluctuate.

Morrissey was inquisitive about how long it will take to refund the TIF district. “The city’s agreement with Swedish American Development Corporation calls for a minimum of $80,000 of proceeds to the Seventh Street TIF for each remaining year of the TIF beginning in 2004,” Forsman states. “I must stress that this is a minimum.”

Morrissey asked if there will be any projected revenue remaining in the TIF annually

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to support further projects if the realignment is accepted.

Forsman said the city’s and SwedishAmerican’s calculations are that if the Medical Office Building is built to the proposed 60,000 square feet, the estimated yearly tax proceeds stand at $250,000. The agreement also states that contesting assessments on the value of property throughout the life of TIF will not be allowed.

The development will possibly reap $60,000, Forsman states. The Walgreens is expected to garner $20,000 in new increment. When the alignment is completed, extra land will be available for development west of the new extension, which Forsman believes will benefit the tax increment.

Morrissey thinks the methods that the city employed for the project are unthinkable. He has stated the city failed to consult with property owners whose homes would be removed.

Spinello said that he’s “not opposed to the project itself.” But Spinello said that people should be more involved. “I think there is some validity to the fact that neighbors tend to get ignored,” he said. “I think it’s unfortunate.”

He also is concerned about the reconstruction. “I’m sure that I’m opposed, in principle, to the construction or reconstruction of Ninth and Charles,” he said. “The city needs to do an additional plan.”

Spinello stated the project, which would begin in 2002, would be good economically. “It adds to our local economy,” he said.

Johnson, who’s a member of SwedishAmerican’s board, touts the development. “This is going to precipitate a brand new medical program, bringing people to the MidTown area.”

He said the hospital has faced the decision of moving east, but staying in the MidTown area would serve the people better.

Like Forsman, Scott rebutted Morrissey’s notion that Seventh Street TIF funds used for the project will have to be paid back by the residents who live in the area.

He said every time a referendum is voted upon and the tax rates increase as a result, all the money from the properties from the Seventh Street area stays there.

“To sort of repair a road that’s in a TIF area is obviously not an inequitable thing,” he said.

He said the project is good for the area. “You see instances when businesses can pick up and leave,” Scott stated. “Obviously, that would be devastating. Overall, multiple million dollars invested by one of the city’s largest employers is a good thing.”

He also commented on Morrissey’s frequent remarks about the city employing better communication with people whose homes will be taken. “Could they have handled it differently in how they talked to residents? I’m sure they could have,” he stated. “I’m not here to defend them or criticize them for that.”

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