Geneva approves another TIF district – with dissent – and sharp words

Alderperson Hruby: ‘I think there are a lot of agendas going on’

In a series of three 7-3 split votes at a special meeting July 8, the Geneva City Council approved the creation of a fourth tax increment finance district for 297 acres on the city’s east side, but not without dissent and some cutting comments.

Known as the Southeast Master Plan Redevelopment Area, the area is bounded by Route 38, Fabyan Parkway, the DuPage/Kane County border and Kirk Road.

A tax increment finance district is a development tool local governments use to encourage development or redevelopment in blighted areas that would be too expensive to improve with private dollars alone. It diverts increased sales or property taxes generated to pay for specific improvements within the district. A TIF can last up to 23 years.

The council was required to approve three ordinances to support creating the TIF, to support the project according to state law for redevelopment and to support increment financing.

Third Ward Alderpersons Becky Hruby and Dean Kilburg and 5th Ward Alderperson Robert Swanson voted no. Hruby and Swanson disputed some of the legal findings required by state law to establish a TIF district, with Hruby’s comments eventually stirring the ire of other council members.

Hruby asked that a letter from the Citizen Advocacy Center in Elmhurst be included in the meeting’s record. The letter, signed by Jack Bentley, the agency’s executive director, disputed that the city followed state law to approve the area for a tax increment finance district.

One of the conditions is that the area is prone to flooding, when “there is no evidence to support this assertion,” contrary to reports from consultants SB Friedman and V3, according to the letter.

“In conclusion, approval of this TIF district would show open disregard for state and local laws and a lack of care for your residents’ meaningful concerns,” according to Bentley’s letter. “Misuse of TIF can affect a local government’s ability to adequately fund its schools, parks and other vital services not only due to reappropriation of revenue, but also due to uncollected property tax revenue.”

The Geneva City Council approved the annexation of 13.42 acres to be developed as an industrial warehouse on the north side of Fabyan Parkway, west of Kirk Road.

Hruby asked for a response from Mayor Kevin Burns.

“Mr. Bentley’s letter, while very much welcome, is replete with tax increment financing tropes, wanting of any defensible accusations and bereft of the knowledge surrounding the school district, the library district, Waubonsee Community College district and the Joint Review Board’s unanimous vote creating and supporting this TIF,” Burns said.

“It is meritless and should be given no weight, granted no measure and allowed no impact in our consideration this evening,” Burns said.

Fifth Ward Alderperson Craig Maladra took issue with the idea that the council would ignore state law to establish a TIF.

“It’s not like this agreement was put together by a bunch of amateurs,” Maladra said. “I believe that the city’s legal representatives have put in a great deal of time on this. I think they’ve been over it with a fine-tooth comb, knowing how careful they need to be. And to insist that they are just blatantly ignoring the law is to call into question their own professional character.”

In particular, establishing a tax increment finance district would allow the extension of Kautz Road, providing an easy path for trucks to get to Interstate 88, Maladra said.

First Ward Alderperson Michael Bruno said to extend Kautz Road with its grade changes “is a crushingly expensive improvement to be made and I see the TIF is the only way that we can accomplish that.”

Hruby said she was surprised that Geneva School District 304′s representative supported the project, according to the vote by the Joint Review Board. The board, made up of local taxing districts, meets annually to review the progress and status of each TIF district.

It also is an advisory panel that has to weigh in on the establishment of a new district, also as required by law.

“I reached out to somebody that I know ... but bottom line, I was told, ‘Don’t mistake our voting yes on this as support for the TIF,’” Hruby said, without identifying her source.

“And the person also shared how they just got beat up, chewed up and spit out the last time there was a TIF vote,” Hruby said. “They worked their tails off and lost. So basically, no steam to fight this fight and just easier to say, ‘Sure.’ So hearsay – take it for what it’s worth. ... My point is, people are using that [the Joint Review Board] as proof that the school’s on board. That does not necessarily mean that they’re on board.”

Hruby said people were taking reports at face value.

“I think there are a lot of agendas going on and I believe that a lot of things I’ve heard tonight just sound naive to me,” Hruby said.

Hruby’s comments rubbed council members the wrong way.

“I think I was offended by what Alderperson Hruby just said,” 2nd Ward Alderperson Bradley Kosirog said.

“I do have an agenda and that agenda is to make Geneva a better place for everybody who lives here,” Kosirog said. “I trust the professionals that we have on our staff and the companies that we hire and their opinions. I am proud to support this.”

Second Ward Alderperson Richard Marks said the effort to develop the east side for industrial use has been in the works since before he came on the council 15 years ago.

“The Joint Review Board ... they chose to vote yes,” Marks said. “They have to hold that up. They voted yes, publicly. Hearsay has no place here.”

Marks said he has also talked to people in Geneva who want to see this area developed to build up the tax base.

Maladra said agreeing to disagree is one thing, but to say that the city’s lawyers are ignoring the law and that people who serve on the council have an agenda – that’s not agreeing to disagree.

“When we imply that a public vote of yes isn’t really a public vote, what we are doing instead is undermining confidence and faith in local government,” Maladra said of Hruby’s statements.

Contacted later, Hruby said she was not speaking specifically about District 304′s representative at the Joint Review Board nor of any school official.

She said her source was someone who is close to the school district.

In an email, District 304 Superintendent Andy Barrett said the district staff reviewed the eligibility report and redevelopment plan for the proposed Southeast Master Plan.

“At the JRB [Joint Review Board] meeting on April 30, 2024, the eligibility report was presented,” according to Barrett’s email. “The JRB voted that the property met eligibility requirements and made a recommendation that the plan be moved forward to the Geneva City Council for consideration.”