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Q&A: Peoria Mayor Ali discusses agreement with Dunlap schools on planned Medina Plains TIF District

Peoria Mayor Rita Ali
Joe Deacon
Peoria Mayor Rita Ali

Peoria leaders believe the city needs a business park to bring more companies to the area.

A tax increment financing, or TIF district is being considered to encourage investors and developers to the proposed Medina Plains Business Park on the city’s north side.

Generally, a TIF freezes property tax allocations to the district’s taxing bodies and funds are reinvested to the project to make it more attractive to investors.

But funding concerns for Dunlap School District 323 in a possible Medina Plains TIF prompted the City Council to approve an agreement to share revenue with the school district.

According to City Manager Patrick Urich, the city previously entered agreements with Peoria Public Schools related to TIF revenue.

The East Village Growth Cell TIF approved in 2011 will return a 10% allocation to District 150 for job training once it surpasses $500,000. Urich said the TIF is currently up to $462,000 and runs until 2035. Additionally, he said the district will also get slightly less than $1 million when the Central Business District TIF ends this year.

In her latest monthly conversation with WCBU reporter Joe Deacon, Peoria Mayor Rita Ali discusses why the council is taking this unique carve-out approach. This interview has been edited for clarity, brevity and accuracy.

At the most recent meeting, the City Council agreed to share some revenue from the proposed Medina Plains Business Park TIF with the Dunlap School District. How does this carve out work?

Mayor Rita Ali: So, the area of the proposed TIF district has seen a 10% decline in the EAV (equalized assessed value) since 2016, and the rest of the Dunlap School (District) EAV has also declined at 5.1%, and the city is 6.2%. So we recognize that the district has capital needs; they’re growing very fast (and) they probably need some additional schools. So the city is willing to partner with the school district and provide 15% of that TIF to the district as an anchor development, 22.5% to the district for the rest of the TIF, 25% if the anchor development does not develop, and then 35% to the district for any residential development, although none is being planned. There’s only intended for commercial development.

I see. This is somewhat of an unusual tactic in regard to a TIF. Why was this proposed for Dunlap in this instance?

Ali: Well, you know, I think part of it is that Dunlap has significant growth within their school district. They have some concerns that additional companies, industries, expanded industries in the area is likely to bring more population to their district, and that’s going to increase their capital needs. So I think they want to manage the population growth within their schools and be able to afford to accommodate the needs of a growing student population. So there was resistance, of course, but it worked out over time.

Have TIFs in the past hampered the amount of tax revenue that other school districts have been able to receive?

Ali: Well, I think that’s a good question. There’s always some resistance that maybe a school district is being shorted as a result of a TIF. In this case, I think it’s a matter of significant population growth.

Could this type of carve out diminish the appeal of the Medina Plains TIF, and could this action also set a precedent for future TIFs?

Ali: That’s a possibility. I certainly hope that it does what it’s intended to do, and that’s attract more industry to Peoria. There’s been cases where the (Greater Peoria) Economic Development Council (EDC) has sought out companies to come to Peoria and we just have not had the infrastructure. An example is when the Amazon warehouse moved to Pekin, they looked at Peoria; they wanted Peoria. We actually did not have the ready warehouse or facilities that met their needs, and we found that to happen over and over. So we really need an industrial park that has the provisions to attract the needs of today’s companies and industries, and that’s what this is intended to do.

So what is the status of the Medina Plains TIF? Has it been entirely approved yet? And if not, when would that be?

Ali: It has not been entirely approved but we are looking at the approval to take place at our next council meeting, which is scheduled for Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14th.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This interview was conducted before Peoria County Coroner Jamie Harwood’s announcement Thursday that a 29-year-old Bloomington woman diedfollowing a Wednesday afternoon shooting in the 3000 block of W. Wiswall St.

The Cure Violence group recently finished up its community assessment and the program is going to move forward, initially in the East Bluff. We’re already seeing some strides being made in reducing violence, as it’s now been more than 2½ months since the most recent homicide in the city – and that’s the longest gap in more than four years. How can the city continue this positive trend?

Ali: I think we continue what we’re doing now, and that’s the police and the community working together: community organizations, neighborhood associations, partners within the Safety Network. The programs that have been provided to provide after school activity and anti-violence activity. Working with the schools very closely is very important because we know that young people are getting more engaged and having access to guns or violent behavior or aggressive behavior. So I think it really takes a village; it’s that partnership with the community and the police working together to reduce crime. I’ll add, the Tip-411 (hotline) is helping too; that means the community is tired of gun violence, they’re reporting it to the police anonymously, and there are positive results that are taking place.

Emily Bollinger

We’ve discussed in the past a renewed commitment to revitalizing downtown. In regard to the Riverfront, has there been any movement toward a replacement for the Spirit of Peoria with another riverboat?

Ali: Absolutely, yes. We realize that the riverboat is not only an asset for the city, but those other communities that are along the river. So a request for proposals (RFP) process is being put in place, and sometime around mid-February this month, that RFP is going to go out to request and hope to secure a riverboat operation and services to launch from the city-owned dock. So we are asking those boat owners out there to reply and hopefully, (we) capture some interest.

If there isn’t going to be a riverboat, if you don’t get appropriate responses in this case, can the dock area be redeveloped or repurposed into something more useful?

Ali: I don’t know, but I think that Peoria is a very creative community. We would certainly hope to get a boat; I think that’s a high priority – everybody wants it. We’re a river city, so we need a river boat. So, I don’t want to think that it’s not going to happen at this point.

Is the city encouraging the state legislators to consider changing the law and allowing red light and speeding cameras in Peoria? What benefit would the city see from these cameras?

Ali: Well, you know, it’s controversial. The city did include language in our legislative wish to have Peoria County added to the group of upstate counties that can have automatic traffic enforcement; Rockford has done the same thing. But because it’s so controversial throughout the state, I think it’s going to be uphill – an uphill climb for the state legislature to garner any approval.

You say it’s been controversial, because there’s been issues up in the Chicago area with some of these cameras and how they’ve been used.

Ali: Yes, and there’s been concerns by ACLU. There’s been concerns by communities of color; there’s been concerns by individuals regardless of race or color that think that the community might be over-ticketed and that it’s kind of a money grab. So there’s different perceptions out there about these red light cameras. But we know we do need enforcement, because we do have violators that are running through red lights and sometimes causing serious harm or death to our residents.

You kind of touched on it there, but I was going to say: if it’s been so controversial and you see it as an uphill battle, why do you continue to keep it on the wish list?

Ali: Well, this is the first time we put it on the wish list. So we want to express, I think, our interest in exploring that so that even if it doesn’t happen, legislators are aware that we have a problem that we’re trying to address.

There’s a proposal before the Planning and Zoning Commission requesting annexation of 90 acres on the far north side near the intersection of Cedar Hills Drive and Singing Woods Road. This property is not currently adjacent to city boundary, so the annexation wouldn’t actually take place until another property would be added to make it contiguous. Are you at all concerned with annexations resulting in city sprawl and spreading services too thin?

Ali: Actually, I’m not because I don’t see significant or fast growth in terms of our spread. We don’t see a lot of annexation anymore taking place in Peoria. This is, like you say, it’s not property that’s being annexed (now) because there’s a parcel in between. But it’s an agreement, annexation agreement, that takes place and they take place all the time for different municipalities. But I’m really not afraid that we’re spreading too fast, and we need growth and we need industrial companies to come.

There’s also a proposal for a private solar utility facility on the west side, but some residents in that area have objected to the idea. What advantages or disadvantages do you see in this type of development?

Ali: Well, I’m a big proponent of solar energy. I think it’s one of the fastest growing industries that we have and it helps with some of the energy costs that we have. That’s the intention of this Community Solar Initiative, it’s to help reduce the costs of energy – and we know that it’s going up.

So this facility is being proposed at Richwoods and Reservoir (boulevards), and the Planning and Zoning Commission, they’ve been discussing the matter. The company (Hawk-Attollo Solar Development) is looking to address the concerns, like potential glare that (people) think might happen. But I think the company is thinking that those concerns that have been communicated by the neighboring residents are going to be addressed before they come back to planning and zoning. So once planning and zoning decides, then it will come to the Council for consideration.

The city also just recently announced the application round this year for the Nonprofit Capital Program. Can you tell us a little bit about what that program is?

Ali: Sure. It was implemented last year, and we released really an RFP for those not-for-profit organizations that had some capital needs, especially needs in terms of improving the outside of their facilities and maybe even the inside as well. But also they could get some help with a vehicle, say if they needed a van. It has to be a community organization that provides services to low income families, and they can apply for between $50,000- $75,000 in a grant (Community Development Block Grant, GDBG). So we expect to fund eight organizations; I think we funded seven or eight last year. There’s a total of $400,000 available, so we encourage the not-for-profit organizations to seek out this opportunity.

Contact Joe at jdeacon@ilstu.edu.