Another day, another example of Chicago aldermen pushing back against Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s attempts to chip away at their cherished aldermanic prerogative.
This time, the point of contention was the mayor’s plan to abolish four tax-increment-financing districts as part of declaring a record $300 million TIF surplus to help balance the city budget and bankroll the new teachers contract.
Three TIFs — Harlem Industrial, Pershing/King and South Works Industrial — were abolished without controversy by the City Council’s Finance Committee.
The decision to sunset the fourth TIF — Irving Park/Elston — 13 years ahead of schedule triggered the controversy and was ultimately held in committee.
Ald. Samantha Nugent (39th) said she wants to use at least some of the $161,904 “closing balance” in the Irving Park/Elston TIF for ornamental metal signposts to identify the Old Irving Park neighborhood she represents.
“We’re starting to get a lot of restaurants and shops and we want to help promote that,” she said.
“If they are the metal ones, I’m having quotes of around $8,000 each. I’d like to do 18. I don’t know if I’ll get that many. But it’s something that we were putting in for. Both Ald. [Jim] Gardiner and I represent that area and we think it’d be nice for the community.”
Nugent said she did speak with “staff” in the Department of Planning and Development about the mayor’s decision to abolish the TIF 13 years early.
But she said she was “never in agreement” with the idea of “completely sunsetting that TIF without different alternatives for me to be able to do some work in the community.”
“I need to use all of the resources I’ve got to deliver to the folks in my community. TIFs allow me to partner with other aldermen,” Nugent said.
“I just want to make sure that I’m utilizing those dollars appropriately in the community. I don’t want to see those funds go away and then me not have any resources to pull on. Those folks in that area want to develop. They want to see things happen. This is just a tool for me to help them.”
Deputy Planning and Development Commissioner William Jeffries blamed “miscommunication” for the problem with Nugent and promised to work it out with the freshman alderman.
Downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) didn’t buy it.
“I’m getting increasingly frustrated here. I think it’s incredibly presumptuous to notify other taxing bodies that these TIFs are gonna be closed when, in one case, one of the two alderman hasn’t even had a conversation about it with the administration. I don’t think that’s miscommunication. I think it’s lack of communication and I think that’s wrong,” Reilly said.
“Each of us are elected officials who work for taxpayers just like this administration does. And this needs to be a partnership. It should not be something that is dictated or, `We’ll get back to you on that.’ … If this were happening in my ward, I’d be livid.”
Reilly acknowledged that, based on the arguments made by the Department of Planning and Development, closing the four TIFs is justified.
But he doesn’t blame Nugent for “wanting to hold onto” what’s left in the TIF “until she has some assurances that local needs are being met.”
“If there’s some remaining increment that can be put to good public use and aldermen have good ideas on that, that needs to be considered first,” he said.
“I’m hoping this is a learning moment and, moving forward, there’ll be a little bit more engagement on the front end so we don’t have these embarrassing moments in committee.”
Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) also sided with Nugent.
“Some of the TIFs that are in my ward are TIFs that I initiated to encourage the Department of Planning to put in. So aldermen should be notified and OK with taking `em out,” Burnett said.
Pointing to Jeffries, Burnett said, “When I put my TIFs in, this gentleman wasn’t working for the city. … They should converse with us to make sure we’re all on the same page. [They shouldn’t be] … cutting a deal with other taxing bodies before they talk to us.”
Hours after taking office, Lightfoot signed an executive order stripping aldermen of their unbridled control over licensing and permitting in their wards.
The mayor has also promised to end aldermanic prerogative over zoning. But that will require council approval — no sure thing.
Last month, a seemingly innocuous ordinance expanding protections for hospital quiet zones stalled amid concern it set a dangerous precedent by reducing aldermanic prerogative.
The ordinance was salvaged only after it was watered down to require aldermen seeking to designate additional quiet zones to “consult with” — not receive approval from — the Departments of Police, Public Health and Transportation.