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Thomas Clatterbuck

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The Springfield YMCA’s upgrade took a step forward at tonight’s city council meeting. $5.9 million in TIF funding was approved for the new facility planned for Enos Park. TIF money will be drawn from both the Enos Park and Downtown TIF funds. This money is only a small portion of the nearly $35 million project. Representatives from the YMCA said that the project could not go forward without the TIF support from the city.

Although the aldermen stated their support for the upgrade, the use of TIF money raised some issues. Because the YMCA is a nonprofit, it will not directly provide any “increment” to the tax base. Even those who otherwise support nonprofits often consider it inappropriate to use TIF money in this way. However, aldermen pointed out that in addition to the $35 million construction project the YMCA is providing, the project should do other things to generate new growth. Hopefully, the new structure will foster development to itself, and better connect the medical districts with downtown.

The real benefit of TIF projects was also touched on in the discussion. Both Alderwoman Dicenso and Alderman McMenamin mentioned the Hy-Vee TIF project. While they both said that Hy-Vee itself was a boon to McArthur Boulevard, Dicenso had a less favorable characterization of how much additional activity that TIF generated.

The TIF funding for the YMCA was approved unanimously.

Rezoning Melrose St.

An old bar location may be getting a second life in Ward 2. 1510 Melrose St. was approved for rezoning to potentially allow a tavern to be opened in the old Sandtrap Bar location. Although the new owners are seeking a tavern license, their stated goal is to be more of a convince store with video gambling. Aldermen Senor supported the new endeavor. He said that if the council continued to vote down rezoning for businesses, it would be increasingly difficult to say Springfield is business friendly.

But several neighbors of the property were opposed to the project. Citing a lack of parking and increased noise, they felt the store would not be a good addition to their neighborhood. Opponents pointed out how close the location is to residential areas, and how many children live in the area. The location also has a bad reputation. Even the new owners admitted that there had been serious problem in the past. However, they said that the hyper focus they would be under would ensure they were a good neighbor.

The rezoning was approved 8-1-1, with McMenamin voting against and Fulgenzi voting present. This only changed the zoning of the location. They will still need to get a liquor and gaming license to actually operate the proposed business.

You can watch the full meeting in the player. The zoning hearing starts around the 15 minute mark, the YMCA TIF starts around the 70 minute mark.

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Senior strategist, statehouse reporter and political correspondent for Springfield Daily. Graduate of District 117 and UIS. Thomas covers stories in both Morgan and Sangamon Counties, as well as statewide politics.

Local

City gets good budget news tempered with warnings

Thomas Clatterbuck

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The City of Springfield is on track for a budget surplus in FY 2019. Based on current revenue, the city may have a positive fund balance of $1.7 million. This comes as something of a surprise, considering the original budget had an estimated $2.6 million shortfall. At last night’s city council meeting, Budget Director Bill McCarty explained what caused the turnaround.

Numerous factors played into the turnaround. Early tax payments, a large settlement from Comcast, and a transfer from Fund 095 to the corporate fund were key on the revenue side. Hiring delays and stabilizing healthcare cost increases have been key on the expense side of the equation.

The city’s good management has been noted by outsiders as well. The S&P affirmed the city’s AA bond rating, which helps determine how much interest is paid on new bonds. A higher bond rating is a good indicator of financial health, and so avoiding a downgrade is very valuable for the city.

Clouds on the horizon

But while the current year is better than expected, the council was given several warnings about the future. Director McCarty pointed out that much of the surplus was due to a one time settlement. That extra million helps this year, but doesn’t represent a lasting increase in revenue. While optimistic about the long

Representatives from the Police Pension fund also warned about the growing pension obligations. Pensions already consume all of the property tax revenue in the city. McCarty said that where property tax used to pay for pensions and other things, now they only pay for pensions; and even other revenue sources are being tapped to make the required payments.

The S&P also noted these long-term challenges. So while the current AA rating was affirmed, the city’s outlook was downgraded from “stable” to “negative.” Although this will not impact current interest rates, it might make future borrowing more expensive.

You can watch McCarty’s presentation to the council which starts at 55:00. You can also watch his after meeting Q&A in the player below.

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LIVE | Springfield City Council October 16th

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Follow along live with the Springfield City Council meeting. Local BSA troop 202 is present. Camp Care-a-Lot is being recognized for their work with under privileged students. Director McCarty will present on the city’s finances shortly.

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2019 Election

Langfelder, McMenamin discuss the Capital Township question

Thomas Clatterbuck

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Illinois is notorious for having too many units of government. Capital Township, which is coterminous with the City of Springfield, is widely considered obsolete. Local leaders are working to abolish the township, a move which should save taxpayers nearly $500,000 per year. But questions remain on what is to become of the township’s functions once it is dissolved. One proposal is to merge the township with the county. Supporters of this proposal point to the several county officials who also perform roles for the township. This question will appear on the November 6th ballot.

However, not everyone thinks that the county should take over the township. Mayor Jim Langfelder and Ward 7 Alderman Joe McMenamin agree that the township should be dissolved, but they think the city should take over the remaining township functions. Normally, a townships’ primary function is to deal with roads. But because Capital Township is coterminous, or lies wholly within, the City of Springfield, it has no roads to take care of. The city takes care of the roads.

The other main function of the township handles is economic development. Langfelder pointed out that while the county could perform this function, it makes much more sense for the city to handle issues that will impact its community directly. Springfield may be the largest city in Sangamon County, but the County Board represents the numerous smaller communities in the county. The Springfield City Council, however, only represents the city, and is better positioned to assist local economic needs. McMenamin went on to say that the city should be the ones decided what taxes are levied and what money are spent. He likened it to letting Indiana making decision for Illinois. McMenamin also pointed out that when coterminous townships are dissolved, they are typically dissolved into their municipality, not their county.

The ballot questions

In November, township residents will see the county’s plan to give the township to the county on the ballot. Because this is a non-binding question, the results of the vote will only be informative to the county and township board. Similarly, the proposed question by Mayor Langfelder is also non-binding and will also have no effect on its own.

Because the city council declined to put the city’s question on the ballot, voters will first need to sign the a petition to get the question on the April 2019 ballot. Langfelder will need at least 3,000 signatures to get on the ballot, but the final number of signatures they need will not be known until after the November election. Supporters of the mayor’s position are currently passing petitions, and their efforts are expected to pick up after the November election. Only voters in the township can sign the petition.

No matter what results the ballot questions bring back, the Township will still need need to vote to absolve itself. The township has already agreed to absolve itself to the county, but Langfelder cautioned that this was possibly due to the officials who overlap between the county and the township. And the county would still need approval from the state to take over the township because it is coterminous with a municipality.

You can watch our full interview with Langfelder and McMenamin in the player below. We apologize that the audio is not up to our normal standards.

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