City councils are worse than MLB team owners!

Why, on God’s green earth, would anyone pay pitcher Matt Garza $13 million a year? But despite a terrible 3.82 lifetime ERA, a slew of arm problems, and a breakeven win loss record, the Milwaukee Brewers did just that – for four years!

Then the MLB owners have the nerve to shriek and howl about how escalating salaries for mediocre players are making it impossible for them to field a winning team and pull a profit. I would simply redirect them to the mirror.

While we all like to laugh at their fiscal indiscretions, the truth is, too many of our city councils and village boards engage in the very same behavior and, unlike some silly multi-millionaire, this time, the losers are the taxpayers.  tif

And the most recent precedent for the phenomenon we’re about to discuss is the manner in which Carpentersville and East Dundee have gone to war over a Walmart.

You see, the chain everyone loves to hate wants to build a superstore at Lake Marian and Route 25 in C’ville, but in order to do so, that city has to come up with $4.3 million in TIF assistance.

Apparently the $470 billion Walmart made last year left them a little short! I hear their CEO is actually brown bagging it.

Again, TIF stands for Tax Increment Financing and once a TIF “district” is declared to be “blighted,” a municipality can raise the sales tax and/or freeze the property taxes essentially applying future gains towards current improvements.

But TIFs rarely work out. Either the business fails because the market couldn’t bear it to begin with, or, as it is in this case, the business bugs out before those long term gains can truly be realized.

Because if Walmart’s corporate blackmail works – and it most surely will – it means they’ll shut down their East Dundee location which, of course, was the result of an earlier TIF deal.

Because the old East Dundee TIF district and the newly proposed C’ville iteration are within 10 miles of each other, East Dundee has resorted to the courts in an effort to halt the move or prevent Walmart from getting a new deal. Illinois law not-so-clearly states that this kind of TIF hopping isn’t kosher.

And that’s the problem, according to East Dundee Trustee Allen Skillicorn. He said Illinois TIF law is so vague that his municipality doesn’t have a legal leg to stand on and, though he’s the only trustee taking this stand, that’s why he hasn’t supported the legal wrangling.

Allen also correctly noted that TIFs are clearly a form of corporate welfare in that the early tax breaks those businesses receive have to be made up by the rest of the town’s taxpayers. The fact that Walmart’s paying less doesn’t mean the schools are willing to everyone else a break.

So if these village boards really want to stop corporations from playing both ends to the middle, they have to do one of two things. Either stop acting like spendthrift baseball owners who insist upon bidding on “free agents” who never pan out, or, whenever another municipality raids their business base, they have to make it so painful that no one will ever try it again.

Though I don’t hold out much hope for the former option, there are dozens of examples of duped city councils regretting their original TIF decision.

Take the Geneva Commons – please!

That city and St. Charles kept upping the concession ante until Geneva finally won. And if by “won” you mean a retail development that’s never come close to expectations; where the original owner defaulted and had to sell out; a mall that’s slowly destroying their quaint downtown; and a situation that will get much worse when Barnes & Noble goes out, then I guess you’re doing alright.

You’d think the St. Charles City Council would be rolling around the chamber floors laughing over their good fiscal fortune. But no! Having learned nothing from the Commons debacle, that group just OK’d a record $20 million in concessions to a DOA Charlestowne Mall redevelopment plan.

So since I’m convinced that city councils can’t stop spending other people’s money, here’s the course of East Dundee should take. Go after every single major C’ville business and make them an offer they can’t refuse. And Carpentersville has been kind enough to list all those establishments on their website!

That means making a pitch to Autozone, Discount Tire, Home Depot, Merlin’s, Midas, Menard’s, Woodman’s, Walgreens and their industrial base too.

Then I would do whatever it takes to get them to move to East Dundee, not for any tax gain, but to send the message that, “If you’re going to poach one of our businesses, then we’ll make it hurt!” That’ll make the next village think twice.

I shoulda been a city manager!

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