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City debates budget maneuver

October 11, 2018

KANKAKEE — Kankakee officials keep discovering more money to help with the city budget.

The catch: The cash in question is sitting in accounts designated for developing certain neighborhoods.

But city officials say they have found legal justifications to move the money for other purposes.

Earlier this year, the city was able to plug a hole in its budget by scraping $408,000 from two of its TIF districts. This amount was generated by calculating general fund money spent running the TIFs for more than a dozen years — expenditures on such things as attorneys and accountants.

On Tuesday, city attorney Burt Odelson told City Council members they could tap another $850,000 from the restricted TIF accounts. He calculated that the city could assess 2 percent fees for guaranteeing bonds over the years to pay for projects in the TIF districts.

While acknowledging the proposed diversion was “perfectly legal,” Ald. Chris Curtis, R-6, said he was concerned about taking money from TIF districts when the city was competing with neighboring Bradley for tax-generating retail businesses.

He noted much of the money would come out of the TIF account designed to develop the areas near Exit 308 on Interstate 57, which he called Kankakee’s retail hub. The Walmart at that exit, he said, has the potential to bring other retailers.

“TIFs are there to to get economic growth to happen. We fight a huge uphill battle against Bradley. They don’t have to give away as much because everyone wants to be next to a Chili’s or an Olive Garden,” Curtis said at the council’s monthly budget committee meeting. “Bradley is getting deals because of the herd mentality.”

To address that concern, Mayor Chasity Wells-Armstrong proposed using the new money for filling vacant positions that she said would promote economic development throughout town, including in the TIF districts.

Council members were presented with a plan that would include hiring an economic development director, communications director, another building inspector and a human resources secretary. The salaries for the new jobs would amount to about $235,000 per year.

The city would have enough money to pay for the positions until 2021. After that time, Odelson said, the new employees should have created enough economic development to fund their positions.

“You should have an economic development director for a city your size, so you can get the word out about what you have,” Odelson said.

Curtis and other council members said they would need some time to look at the proposal. They agreed to revisit the issue at next month’s budget committee meeting.

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