County board approves tax abatement, truancy funding

Winnebago County Board members butted heads over two major issues at their Oct. 12 meeting. Tax abatement for CherryVale Mall and funding for a District 205 truancy program drew the most debate.

During public participation, CherryVale Mall General Manager Mark Peterson asked the board to finalize an $80,000 property tax abatement, spread over 10 years, to lure businesses to a planned 13-store mall addition. Peterson told the board this 75,000-square-foot addition, to be located in the mall parking lot, would generate $200,000 annually in sales tax.

Pete MacKay (R-5) argued the development would go ahead just fine without the abatement.

Phil Johnson (D-8) argued tax abatements should be saved as incentives for businesses to come to areas they normally wouldn’t.

Board members also pointed out the lack of public transportation to the mall and voiced concerns about the economic impact to Rockford and other surrounding areas, implying the abatement is an unfair advantage for Cherry Valley.

The resolution passed in a 14-10 vote. Mary Ann Aiello (R-9), John Harmon (R-4), Pearl Hawks (D-6), Phil Johnson (D-8), David Krienke (R-3), Pete MacKay (R-5), Randy Olson (R-1), Tuffy Quinonez (D-11) and Dorothy Redd (D-6) opposed the legislation.

George Anne Duckett (D-12), Tom Owens (R-1), Eugene Quinn (R-14) and Dave Yeske (R-2) were not present.

In other public participation, Rockford Director of Education and Lifelong Learning Adam Smith stated his case for the board to approve $25,000 to hire a District 205 truancy officer. The amendment to the 2007 county budget was laid over from the Sept. 28 meeting.

MacKay argued truancy is the school district’s problem, not the county’s.

Adams said truancy is everyone’s problem. “The ripple effects are affecting our community in new ways,” he explained. “We need to find some new solutions.”

Adams pointed out there are five schools outside the City of Rockford, not subject to the city’s truancy ordinance, in need of county funding to combat truancy.

After some discussion, the amendment passed with MacKay and Phil Johnson casting the only no votes.

Adams called the news a “great opportunity for intergovernmental collaboration.”

The board also passed a resolution authorizing funds for the Employer Assisted Housing Program as incentive to turn eligible downtown employees into downtown homebuyers. MacKay, who likened the program to socialism, voted no along with Redd. Angie Goral (D-7) abstained.

The Rockford City Council is also examining the program. The Council is expected to vote on the agreement between police and District 205 in coming weeks.

From the Oct. 18-24, 2006, issue

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