Arlington Heights-based school district officials will look at hiring a lobbyist as talks around possible tax deals for a proposed northwest suburban Chicago Bears stadium heat up in Springfield.
At a Feb. 2 special meeting of the Township High School District 214 Board of Education, board members agreed that “mega project legislation,” which could authorize financial incentives for decades, stood to have a significant impact on property tax revenue to support local schools.
They also agreed to consider Co-interim Superintendent Kenneth Arndt’s suggestion that the board hire a lobbyist in Springfield to represent the interests of the district, possibly in conjunction with other nearby school districts.
Arndt said he was invested in maintaining a good working relationship with the Village of Arlington Heights and supports the project as a whole.
That said, Arndt added, the implications of new financial incentives for the Bears or any other developer at Arlington Park could be staggering for a school district like District 214, which relies heavily on property taxes.
“This (legislation), if it’s poorly developed, will hurt D214 for almost 40 years,” he said.
Proposed legislation is not yet filed in Springfield, board attorney Ares Dalianis said. But he said, based on the information that is available, District 214 ought to consider hiring someone to represent its interests in the State Legislature.
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“Right now you’re on the outside looking in,” he told the board. “That’s not a good place to be with something that has 40 years of consequence to it.”
District 214 would be one of several school districts to be impacted by any property tax incentives for the Bears or another developer of the Arlington Park property. Palatine District 15 Superintendent Laurie Heinz wrote to Arlington Heights officials in summer 2022 to oppose establishing a tax increment financing district to bring the Bears to the village, saying such a change could have a “potentially transformative” impact on area schools. Tax increment financing districts freeze the amount paid to local taxing bodies and direct taxes collected on any increase in property value toward development for a period of time.
According to Dalianis’ presentation, District 15 covers the entirety of the 326-acre racecourse area where the Bears have proposed a stadium and mixed-use development. District 214 pulls property tax revenue from the lower portion of the site, where the racetrack and grandstand are currently located. Township High School District 211 takes revenue from the northern portion, where the team has proposed building the stadium itself.
Dalianis’ presentation to the board outlined a proposal that has been floated to create a new section of the Illinois property tax code that would allow developers spending more than $500 million to freeze the property tax levels in a given area for up to 40 years if the hosting municipality deemed doing so would incur “a substantial public benefit.”
Instead of paying property taxes, Dalianis said the concept provides for a payment in lieu of taxes, known as PILOT, that a developer would pay.
“But the special payment will be significantly less than what normal property taxes would be,” he said. “That’s the incentive, that delta.”
In other communities, the idea of a payment in lieu of taxes has been floated as a way to generate revenue from tax-exempt institutions such as hospitals and universities.
Dalianis offered Northwestern University in Evanston as an example of a standing PILOT agreement where payments to a city are “essentially a proxy or a substitute for taxes.”
“Because so much of the property in Evanston is (tax) exempt and the university has many positive impacts, but it also draws on municipal resources as well… the university works out these arrangements with the city to pay for certain services that they could otherwise say ‘hey, we’re exempt, we don’t have to pay taxes.’”
Board President Bill Dussling cautioned that the legislation was still in a state of flux but said the district needed to be involved as the bill makes its way through the process in Springfield.
“We want to make sure we are at the table for when any discussion takes place about the effect of this project on us, and the dollars and finances relative to us,” he said.
Arndt recommended that the board hire a lobbyist, describing the move as a “short-term investment in a very long-term game.”
Dussling agreed and said the Feb. 9 board meeting would include an action item on hiring a lobbyist.
“We want to get an oar in the water,” he said. “We don’t want to fight anybody. We want to be at the table and get consensus about what’s good for the students in this district.”