Thursday, June 21, 2007

TIF: A primer

Recently, there was an article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel which reported questions being raised about a public assistance package for a proposed downtown hotel in Waukesha. In the article, the proposed Tax Increment Financing (TIF) package for the Clarke Hotel and Black Trumpet restaurant was called into question by a member of the Waukesha's Joint Review Board (JRB).

TIF projects can only be approved if signed off by all the effected underlying governments in the form of a JRB. In fact, a municipality's JRB has the power of final approval of every TIF request in the State of Wisconsin. For example, the following is an explanation of the JRB's role in the City of Milwaukee's TIF approval process (see Milwaukee's TIF page for more details).

In the City of Milwaukee, a TIF project plan must be approved by several bodies. First, the project receives a hearing before the Joint Review Board, which is made up of five (5) representatives – one each from the City of Milwaukee, Milwaukee County, Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS), and the Milwaukee Technical School System – and a citizen representative. After an initial hearing before the Joint Review Board, the Redevelopment Authority of the City of Milwaukee (RACM) holds a public hearing on the TIF project and votes on the project. After RACM action, the Milwaukee Common Council’s Zoning & Neighborhood Development (ZND) Committee holds a hearing on the TIF project. Once adopted by the ZND Committee, the project is either approved or rejected by the full Common Council. Upon adoption by the Common Council, the Joint Review Board makes a final recommendation on the project and it is forwarded to the Mayor for his ultimate approval.
It is doubtful that a JRB meeting in the City of Milwaukee or elsewhere attracts regular public participation. In the absence of direct public scrutiny, it is up to the five members of the municipality's JRB to provide adequate oversight. Again, using the City of Milwaukee as an example, the members of the JRB are:

Mark Nicolini, City of Milwaukee
Robert Dennik, Milwaukee County
Michael Sargent, Milwaukee Area Technical College
Ron Vavric, Milwaukee Public Schools
Kathryn West, Citizen Member

According to the State of Wisconsin's JRB guidelines, JRBs in Wisconsin can "hold additional public hearings as part of their deliberation." If you have any concerns over a proposed TIF in your community, please note your municipality's TIF approval process, its JRB members, and when JRB meetings are scheduled to occur. It reasons that the more transparent and accountable the TIF approval process, the stronger the resulting TIF district.

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