Guest Column: Freeport Super Wal-Mart doesn’t meet TIF requirements

Freeport Mayor George Gaulrapp is throwing in his full support on the new Super Wal-Mart development that is headed into an industrial TIF. However, it needs to be pointed out that key facts being left out by the mayor are the ones that will hurt the Freeport community in the long run.

It was pointed out in the Journal Standard that the school district has the most to lose by placing this development in an industrial TIF. Gaulrapp said the property tax that will go to the school district will be $110,000. But it’s what he doesn’t tell the Journal Standard reporter that smothers the truth about the matter.

The disadvantage to the Freeport School District is that it would be entitled to more than $500,000 each year for the 23 years if it were not located inside an industrial TIF. And all the retail tax would still come to the city if it were located anywhere else in the city limits.

Had this development been steered to the “planned retail development location” off Bypass 20, the school district’s entitlement to the property tax would be a whopping 57 percent of the $900,000 future annual tax instead of the measly 25 percent to be divided among everyone in the taxing district. This is a critical fact not being told. Why would the school district sit back and allow all that money to be passed on to the developer?

It is true we get only one bite of the apple to get it right in planning the future of Freeport. We have, to this point, allowed this mayor to single-handedly swipe away the consolidated planning effort to locate retail on Bypass 20 where transportation routes exist. And we’re allowing this to take place so a retail developer can increase his profit margin while the homeowners pay for the cost of running our community.

What’s the use of planning for Freeport when politics gives way to developer pressures and campaign contributions?

It’s the taxpayers who will ultimately suffer from this industrial TIF because we will be paying the costs for school budgets instead of requiring Wal-Mart and Menards to pitch in their normal share of property tax. Instead, the future TIF tax will go back into this private development and not pay the normal share in costs of running this community. So we all suffer more in the property tax burdens.

But perhaps the biggest glaring wrong about this development is that it does not meet the utmost criteria to be located inside a TIF district. To get tax incentives to create a TIF development, it must meet what is called the “But For” legal standard. This means there must be “evidence” no Wal-Mart and Menards development would occur in Freeport because the area cannot be reasonably developed without the TIF to pay for the project.

We all know Wal-Mart and Mendards are already in Freeport and that Wal-Mart is expanding all over the nation. It simply isn’t truthful to say this development would never have occurred without financing costs out of the local property tax fund. Wal-Mart is the wealthiest retailer in the country and, perhaps, the world, and doesn’t need our Freeport property tax to build a bigger store. Our community needs the money more.

The project fails to meet the basic legal standard that “But for TIF no development would occur.” This is a second critical unchecked fact. There is no local representative taking this battle to court to fight for the interests of the people in this community. What private citizen has the money to fight a Wal-Mart developer? The mayor is supposed to represent the people, but has sided with the developer and Freeport Economic Development Foundation, the two who will profit from this TIF.

This is the truth that is being covered up by those who will be lining their own pockets with contributions being taken out of the property tax funds for the next 23 years. Giving our local property tax to a Wal-Mart development that is part of a national expansion effort violates the spirit and intent of the TIF law. It also creates blighted storefronts in our core community when TIFs are supposed to eliminate blight.

Am I truly the “the lone voice” who is willing to stand up for the interests of this community over the interests of one of the largest for-profit retail developments in this city?

Ronda Scott is planning commissioner for the city of Freeport.

From the July 26-Aug. 1, 2006, issue

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