Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

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Council retains TIF until at least 2013

by Chris Schultz

May 17, 2012

Lake Geneva's TIF District 4 will remain open for another 18 months, at least.

The Lake Geneva City Council voted 5-2 not to close the district this December.

An previous council had informally set a closing date of Dec. 31, 2012, but no vote or official action was taken to make that an official deadline.

Voting for closing the district were Alderman Jeff Wall and Alderwoman Arleen Krohn.

Voting to keep it open were aldermen Gary Hougen, William Mott and Alan Kupsik and alderwomen Ellyn Kehoe and Sarah Hill.

If the district were to be closed out, the city would have had to notify the state by May 15.

Instead, council members decided that they want to keep the district open until they can review and decide which projects will close out the district.

City Administrator Dennis Jordan said that under state law, TIF district spending must end by 2017 and must close by 2022.

Hill said she wasn't concerned about new projects as much as the projects still on the list from 1996.

"I think it's very prudent we keep TIF open for another year," she said.

Former Mayor Spyro Condos spoke in favor of keeping the district open.

"Tax incrementation financing is the best thing you can have," Condos said during the public comment period.

He said money from the city's TIF districts have been used to build the business park, to construct Edwards Boulevard and create Donian Park.

"Of course the taxpayers are paying, but very little," Condos said.

Condos complimented Mayor Jim Connors for being forward thinking in the use of tax increment funding.

Condos also said that the proposed Geneva Theatre project in the downtown "is a great idea."

He said 10 years from now, the revived theater would be seen as a benefit for the city and a draw for business.

"I would not close the TIF district, because once you close it, it's gone forever," Condos said.

Also rising in support of keeping the district open was local architect Ken Etten, speaking for Friends of the Geneva Theatre.

"The money that's in TIF now are in the bank," Etten said. "You don't have to raise it."

Etten said the projects done by the TIF "help the people who live here, it's not judt for the tourists."

But not everyone was for maintaining the TIF.

Gary Milliette, a Lake Geneva resident, said the TIF is intended to eliminate blight.

"When is the blight gone?" he asked the council.

The district collects about $2 million a year from local taxpayers.

"Downtown Lake Geneva is not blighted to me," he said.

Former Alderman Bill Huntress also came out against keeping the TIF open, and was pointedly against the theater project.

"It seems we spend more money on skateboard parks and bike trails than we spend on picking up trash and maintaining the streets," Huntress said.

He said the TIF had done good for the city, but it's being used for frivolous things now.

"You're abusing it," he said of TIF. "And that goes back to the city administrator and the public works director."

Huntress also challenged the members of Friends of Geneva Theatre to go to the wealthy members of the community for donations to get the theater project done.

"I suggest you go and get those people with the big leather checkbooks," Huntress said.

Coming down somewhere in the middle was former Alderman Pete Peterson, who said would support keeping the TIF open if the city committed to expanding the city library.

"If you want to keep TIF open and put three to four million into the library, I might be in favor of that," Peterson said. He said the library is used by citizens everyday and needs to be expanded.

He is also against the proposed theater project.

Peterson also reminded Connors that when he first ran for mayor, he said it was his goal to close the TIF.

Jordan said the city's TIF districts went to pay for renovations to the Riviera lakehouse, burying the utility lines in the downtown, construction of the highways 50 and 12 bypasses, replacement of the bridges on Main Street and Wrigley Drive, repairs to the city boat launch, the new parking kiosks and the pending project to update the city's traffic signals in the downtown area.