MARION -- Mayor Mike Absher had reassurances for more than 50 residents who turned out on Monday night for the first public hearing on Marion's proposed Residential TIF District, and had concerns about increased property taxes, commercial development and other impacts of tax-increment financing.
Absher field questions, joined by Nic Nelson, associate attorney with Jacob and Klein and the Economic Development Group, the Bloomington-based law firm and consultants that have been handling Marion's TIF initiatives.
In a tax-increment financing district, the property tax revenues that go to taxing bodies are frozen for 23 years at a certain rate, which is set on a base assessed property value. Any taxes generated above that level can go back into redevelopment, either as rebates to developers or to cities for improvement of infrastructure within the TIF districts. Commonly, there is a split of revenue from those rebates, such as 60 percent to the property owners and 40 percent to the cities.
For more than 30 years, Marion has used TIF districts to spur commercial development west of Interstate 57, much of it in TIF District I, which was established in 1987, was extended, and is coming to an end in 2022.
The proposed Residential TIF is different in that instead of promoting new development, it seeks to revitalize an already-established area. And, taking in about one quarter of the southeastern part of the city, the Residential TIF would also be a much-larger TIF district than the others.
It wouldn't be the first residential TIF in Marion, Nelson said, citing the example of the Kokopelli Golf Course subdivision, which was Marion TIF VII, or the Golf Course TIF, and expired in 2018. Another example is the development around Lake of Egypt and Goreville, also set up as a TIF district, Nelson added.
But, again, those are examples of new development, and are not a comparison of what might happen in the proposed Residential TIF.
One of the chief criteria for creating a TIF is blight, Nelson said. Examples he gave were deterioration of buildings, crumbling streets and infrastructure, and stagnant or declining assessed property valuations.
Not all property within the TIF district needs to qualify as blighted, Nelson said. There might be newer properties or properties that have been kept up, but the presence of vacant lots and deteriorating buildings in the neighborhood is enough to bring it all within the definition of blight.
Having grown up on Marion's east side, Absher said he is "connected" with the part of the city being proposed for the TIF. Not only did he walk the neighborhoods on his way to school, Absher said he burned shoe leather while campaigning last year for mayor.
During the campaign, he asked voters to imagine Marion through outsiders' eyes, and not just see it as someone passing by at 70 miles per hour on I-57, but at 5 mph on a slow roll through the city.
"Now try walking that at one mph," and the meaning of blight should become apparent, Absher said.
The aim of the proposed Residential TIF is to give incentives to property owners, especially owner-occupied houses.
Nelson said there would be TIF incentives for property acquisition and the purchase of construction materials from vendors in Marion. The incentives would not cover new "vertical" construction.
According to a fact sheet provided at the public hearing, potential Residential TIF projects would include:
-- 50- to 75-percent reimbursement on eligible rehabilitation projects, such as replacement of windows and siding and roof repairs, the addition of porches, ramps or stairs, demolition of crumbling outbuildings, and removal of dead trees and other landscaping needs.
-- Forgivable down-payment assistance for first-time homebuyers.
-- Development incentives for owner-occupied homes on vacant or dilapidated lots.
Along with those incentives, the city would use its share of the TIF funds to update infrastructure, including water and sewer lines, as well as sidewalks, streetlights and signage.
Absher said he envisions the Residential TIF as a way for lower-income families to grab a piece of "the American dream" of home ownership, and also as a way to reverse what he called a "downward spiral" in Marion's fortunes. "There is a shortage of affordable owner-occupied houses," Absher said.
Addressing concerns about the drain in Illinois' population due to increased taxes, Absher said most of the flight from the state has been in and around Chicago, where the cost of living has skyrocketed in recent years. "We should do more to encourage the folks leaving that area to come here," Absher said.
Getting more residents to move in would do much to market Marion to new businesses and manufacturing, whose chief concerns are a stable population of laborers, he said.
Other concerns shared were the possibilities of commercial or light-industrial development being introduced in residential areas, as well as high-density apartments and duplexes set up next to single-family residences.
Beefed-up zoning laws and code enforcement, which are a goal of Absher and the City Council's "Vision 20/20" plan, would address those problems, though Absher added "I can't promise what might happen 50 years from now, or even 10 years from now."
"It is not our intention to displace anybody," he said.