Letter to the Editor:
“Dear Senator Gudex, Chairman of the TIF Review Committee,
Please find submitted, documents in the continuing effort to address problems in relation to the Lake Geneva downtown TIF #4 district. The initial concern to try and delete the 2015 TID4 Increment could not be accomplished. That effort was proposed since the allegedly fully funded 7 million dollar parking garage referendum failed. As expected, officials at the local level forged ahead and allowed the projected 1.7 million dollar increment to be included in the 2015 tax levy. The result of that decision will have the effect of increasing the Lake Geneva TID4 fund balance into the 8 to 10 million dollar range (exact figures are difficult to obtain.)
PREAMBLE. Our purpose is not to access responsibility for alleged compromising of county and state TIF statutes by involved consultants, administration officials, or official groups. Morality issues are beyond the scope of this endeavor. What’s done is done. It should also be noted that there is not a secondary motive to condemn the TIF law. Even though it is felt that the statute has weak areas, TIF can achieve desired intent and purpose with proper administration. Our number one goal is to have the controversial and divisive Lake Geneva TIF #4 district closed.
In Lake Geneva there is the projected feeling that TIF matters are off limits for the general public. Joint Review Board meetings are few and far between. Joint Review Board meetings are selectively noticed, and are usually only attended by 10 or 12 people- mostly involved officials. Required annual TIF reports have not been distributed- and probably are non-existent. Once TIF 4 got underway the prevailing “TIF Culture” took over. That is to say, the seemingly private, protected, internal program, administered by the chosen few rolled on and on and on, out of control for 20 years, unabated.
Possibly. The end result, because of protective shielding and lack of transparency has allowed taxpayers to become victims of greedy and predatory behavior. Simply stated the problem is “Taxpayer Abuse”. (Got a pet project? – O.K. just put it in TIF 4- no one is watching and the money is always there. Sorry! We digress—you get the point.) Taxpayers have the right to know where their tax dollars go, how their tax dollars are generated, and how they are used.
This is not happening.
We are respectfully offering thoughts and suggestions to address those concerns. Please find submitted copy of “City of Lake Geneva 2014 Tax Bill Information” that was included with the 2014 tax bills. The insert features a pie type chart under the heading “How your tax bill is divided.” Unfortunately the percent numbers listed for the various entities are bogus. – This can be viewed as an attempt to hide the fact that 1.7 million dollars of the 2015 tax bill will be transferred into the Lake Geneva TIF #4 fund. Please find submitted completed copy of the Lake Geneva accounting department form “TAX INCREMENT CALCULATIONS City of Lake Geneva TID No 04”. This form reveals that the pie chart numbers were developed from Column E numbers, which are the sum of Columns A and F numbers. That does not reflect the actual division of the tax bill. The F column (tax increment) total should have been included as a separate entity in the pie chart as a calculated 6% slice. Then it should have been accompanied by all the previously- listed tax entities with their appropriate numbers calculated from column A. This seemingly trivial accounting event is presented as an example of the so-called “TIF Culture” at work. It wasn’t a mistake; it has been done this way before.
This relates back to the taxpayer participation issue. It can be assured that if the missing 6% TIF Increment pie slice had been included in the chart, that there would have been immediate reactions. Curious and information-starved taxpayers would have started a dialogue with concerns and questions- “What is this? What’s going on?” The needed and desired educational process would begin and the transparency problem could start to unravel.This brings us to one of our perceived weak areas of the statute. The Hands-off honor system type of legislation control isn’t working in Lake Geneva, and may not be working in other areas of the state as well.
During the 2013 Walworth County TIF ordinance revision process the fact that the required annual TIF report was not solicited or audited by the Department of Revenue, it was suggested that the report be sent to the County. It could then be utilized for possible constructive control purposes. Early reports have indicated non-conformance to that effort. TIF Culture again? It is suggested that the 2013 revised Walworth County TIF ordinance be made available for your TIF Review Committee’s deliberations. It is comprehensive and contains TIF control recommendations.There needs to be ways to get the Court of Public Opinion more involved in TIF matters. A mandated tax bill insert with full disclosure could be a start. Transparency is key. As was illustrated above, the “Tax Increment Calculations” form has the needed information. It is available each year before tax bills are distributed. A mandated insert would be a simple, uncomplicated requirement. It would be educational. It would stimulate and encourage public involvement, and it would also send the message to TIF administrations that someone “is watching.” We need more Joint Review Board meetings during the long run periods. Not just rubber stamping sessions. The members should be armed with pertinent and timely information. Fortified with updated information the Joint Review Boards could address potential problem situations. Joint Review Board meetings should be properly noticed and allow for public participation and media exposure. Because of TIF Culture situations, there is also the need to keep a close eye on consultants.
It is recognized that in a small city like Lake Geneva it is difficult to find the right people to represent your interests. With part time officials and short term swinging door problems, it creates the need for citizens to become involved in important city issues. That’s what we are trying to accomplish. TIF #4 is a major taxpayer burden. After 20 years of tax increment payments to service the fluid, ever changing, ever expanding TIF #4 project list, it is understandable why taxpayers are asking for relief.
Knowledgeable tax payers are thinking “It’s our money, we want it back.” The administration’s position is something like “We must use it or lose it.” These are just talking points. The pressing issue is that this situation with the huge excessive TIF 4 fund balance seems to be violating statute regulations. It is time for action. Lake Geneva TIF #4 should be closed.
Help us find a way to stop “taxpayer abuse”.”
Save Our City,