Those Troublesome TIFs

By Michael Kleen ~ Published October 2, 2013 at the Rock River Times

Housing market collapseIn “Trouble with TIFs,” I discussed Tax Increment Financing (TIF), and how TIF districts deprive local governments and school districts of revenue. I also talked about how several studies have shown the unfavorable results of using TIF districts to address blight. In most cases a blighted area was no better off after TIF than it was before, and in some cases it was worse.

There is no doubt that when taken as a whole, Rockford’s experiment with Tax Increment Financing has been a failure. City leaders, however, continue to create new TIF districts and bet on their ability to stimulate growth, despite sobering evidence to the contrary. Not only have TIF districts failed to spur widespread development and raise property values, they threaten to drown our city in a sea of red ink.

In 2010, the consolidated balance for Rockford’s 30 TIF districts was $1.9 million in the red. That deficit was projected to increase to $4.1 million in 2022, before the trend would turn positive. Less than three years later, the consolidated balance for Rockford’s 32 TIF districts was $2.76 million. That deficit was projected to increase to $11.38 million in 2023, before reversing and ending in a small deficit in 2032. This projection was based on 1 percent annual growth of assessed property value and the assumption that no new TIF districts will be created, or no current TIF districts extended beyond their expiration dates.

Continue reading “Those Troublesome TIFs”

Advertisements

Rockford Rewards Failure in Response to Stimulus Fund Scandal

By Michael Kleen ~ Published September 22, 2013 at the Rockford Register Star

CityofRockfordLogoEarlier this month, Rockford City Administrator James Ryan released a memo with his recommendations for how the City should respond to a U.S. Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General’s audit. The audit covered roughly $599,000 in federal stimulus funds Rockford received in 2009. In part, Ryan recommended returning nearly $300,000 in funds that were improperly spent.

Ryan’s memo outlines a clear failure (whether intentional or not) to follow stimulus fund guidelines on the part of Rockford Human Services Department staff. This failure may constitute, at the very least, a neglect of duties.

George Davis, Executive Director of the Rockford Human Services Department, first became aware that the Office of Inspector General was looking into Rockford’s use of federal stimulus funds in the fall of 2011.  He told City Administrator James Ryan, “Given our general accounting practices and Department fiscal procedures I don’t expect that we will have any significant issues.”

Director Davis stated in a letter dated March 5, 2013 to Sheri Fulcher, Regional Inspector General for Audit Services for the DHHS, “…we followed the requirements for documentation as we understood them at the time.” He told the Rockford Register Star on July 26, 2013, “It’s not a case where we had explicit guidelines and instructions and didn’t follow them. We had no unique guidelines.”

Continue reading “Rockford Rewards Failure in Response to Stimulus Fund Scandal”

Questions Raised by Stimulus Funds Memo

By Michael Kleen ~ Published September 18, 2013 at the Rock River Times

16310704_sAfter weeks of delay, the City of Rockford finally released the results of its internal review of the U.S. Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General’s audit, which covered roughly $599,000 in federal stimulus funds spent in 2009 and 2010. This memo, written by Rockford City Administrator James Ryan, raises several alarming questions about the possibility of wrongdoing by City staff and its grant recipients. There are, in fact, at least two instances where further investigation may be warranted.

The first demonstrates a clear failure (whether intentional or not) to follow stimulus fund guidelines on the part of Rockford Human Services Department staff, and may constitute, at the very least, a neglect of duties.

George Davis, Executive Director of the Rockford Human Services Department, first became aware that the Office of Inspector General was looking into Rockford’s use of federal stimulus funds in the fall of 2011. He told City Administrator James Ryan, “Given our general accounting practices and Department fiscal procedures I don’t expect that we will have any significant issues.”

Continue reading “Questions Raised by Stimulus Funds Memo”

WICD Channel 15 News Visits the 3rd Annual Central Illinois Paracon

Jim Heater and I, photo by David Bales
Jim Heater and I, photo by David Bales

WICD Channel 15 News in Champaign covered the 3rd Annual Central Illinois Paracon this weekend and generously included several quotes from myself, as well as the event organizer Becky Guymon and others. You can watch the video at this link or read an excerpt of the story here:

MATTOON– Psychics, tarot card, crystal, and aura readers, and even ghost hunters. All were on hand in Mattoon Saturday to speak with the public about paranormal activity. Organizers say it’s all part of an effort to better educate a thrill-seeking community.

Dozens of exhibitors and guest speakers were in Mattoon Saturday for the Central Illinois Paracon and Psychic Fair. Paranormal investigation teams from across the area were on hand to demonstrate ghost hunting equipment and techniques…

Several guest speakers have been featured on ghost hunting TV shows, but one speaker says the local interest is often traced to local history. Michael Kleen says, “People like to see something interesting about their hometown, they want to know there’s something going on that’s a little bit out of the ordinary that sort of makes living in the town that they live an exciting experience.”

That popularity has not been lost on the Illinois Metaphysical and Paranormal Society, which hosts the convention. Co-founder Becky Guymon says, “The community’s been great, we’ve had a lot of community support. A lot of people come out, I think everyone’s really interested in it. This is our third year doing this and it gets bigger every year.”

And though not every hunt turns up a ghost, sometimes the learning process is just as important. Kleen says, “The legend is important, you know? I don’t think just because a legend is untrue doesn’t mean it’s not meaningful. So I think it does detract a little bit in a sense. But the ghost stories are always going to be there no matter what.” [More…]

Trouble with TIFs

By Michael Kleen ~ Published September 4, 2013 at the Rock River Times

TIF DebtRockford’s 32 Tax Increment Finance (TIF) districts cost taxpayers $2.75 million in 2012, according to a recent report by Finance Director Chris Black. That deficit was projected to increase to $11.38 million by 2023, before the trend reverses. This alarming news has led to the creation of a committee to look into the financial status of each TIF district. As long as this committee is impartial and objective, it could represent a positive step toward curbing Rockford’s TIF addiction.

What is a Tax Increment Finance district? In short, TIF districts are designed to help blighted areas by diverting public revenue toward redevelopment and improvement in those areas. The property tax allocated to various government entities within a designated district is “frozen” at the point the district is created. Any future increase in property tax revenue is captured in a fund and used to finance public infrastructure or reimburse private developers.

In theory, improvements spurred by the use of TIF will raise property values, which in turn will generate more money for the fund. This is money that would otherwise have gone to other taxing bodies, such as a county government or school district. This effectively deprives them of that revenue for the life of the TIF district. They continue to receive the same share of property taxes they received when the district was created.

Continue reading “Trouble with TIFs”

Daily Eastern News Spotlights Tales of Coles County

Thank you to Bob Galuski and the Daily Eastern News, newspaper of Eastern Illinois University, for his article on my book Tales of Coles County and my book signings in Charleston and Mattoon this weekend. So far, my book signings have been a huge success. People were lined up when I arrived at Bidwell’s Chocolate Cafe yesterday evening, and the Lincoln Bookstore is already nearly sold out.

Author to sign book on local folklore
By Bob Galuski / News Editor

Michael Kleen, an alumnus of Eastern, first published “Tales of Coles County, Illinois” in 2004.

He will be jump starting excitement for his 10th anniversary edition of “Tales of Coles County, Illinois” by signing his book at Bidwell’s Chocolate Café at 1610 Broadway Ave in Mattoon and Jackson Avenue Coffee at 708 Jackson Ave in Charleston.

Kleen will be at Bidwell’s Chocolate Café from 5 p.m. until 7 p.m. Friday, and he will then be at Jackson Avenue Coffee from 5 p.m. until 6:30 p.m. Saturday.

“Tales of Coles County, Illinois” details different supernatural occurrences throughout the county – all of which Kleen has researched, and what he calls the “unusual history” of Coles County.

Kleen said his book mixes in fact and historical fiction.

“The general plot is EIU students driving south to go camping when they get caught in a storm,” Kleen said. “They seek shelter in a cabin with this elderly couple who tell them stories about the area.”

Among those stories are the tales of the Pemberton Hall ghost on Eastern’s campus, the haunting of Ashmore Estates and the murder on the Airtight Bridge.

Read the entire article at dennews.com

Big Business Payoffs Bring Few Results

By Michael Kleen ~ Published August 21, 2013 at the Rock River Times

govtspendingOn the third anniversary of the Wanxiang solar panel factory opening south of the Rockford airport, Channel 23 News began its story with a sobering fact. “It’s been nearly three years since a solar panel manufacturer opened its doors in the Forest City, a facility that was supposed to bring hundreds of jobs.” In reality, they reported, the plant has only 13 employees. After the segment, newscaster Tina Stein turned to her partner and remarked, “Quite a difference from what was originally promised.”

In exchange for receiving at least $1.2 million dollars in tax increment financing (TIF) funds, $4 million in state grants, 10 acres of land (worth $650,000), and guaranteed government contracts, Wanxiang was supposed to employ 60 people in its first phase alone. “This is the perfect example of how the city and county came together to create jobs,” Winnebago County Chairman Scott Christiansen said in August 2010. Today, the solar panel manufacturing center is barely operational.

Wanxiang Group is China’s second-largest privately held company, with revenues in the billions of dollars annually. Its founder, Lu Guanqiu, is the 33rd richest person in China, with a net worth of more than $1.87 billion. Did Wanxiang really need a few million dollars in public funds to open a factory in Winnebago County?

Continue reading “Big Business Payoffs Bring Few Results”