'We would like to have a seat at the table': Districts will hire lobbyist to oppose Bears bill
The Northwest Suburban High School District 214 and Palatine Township Elementary District 15 school boards plan to retain a still-to-be-named lobbyist to oppose -- or at least get amended -- recently filed state legislation that would take a cut of their future property tax revenues and give the Chicago Bears a massive tax break at Arlington Park.
The District 214 board unanimously supported hiring a lobbyist Thursday night, which followed the District 15 board's similar vote Wednesday night. The districts want to present a united front before legislators in Springfield and hope to get Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 on board as well. The District 211 board next meets Feb. 16.
"We would like to have a seat at the table so our voice is not lost as we move through this large, complex and certainly rapid-moving and high-stakes issue," said District 15 Superintendent Laurie Heinz. "The board has always and will support everything that has to do with the economic development within District 15 boundaries. But the economic development must make sense and fully address any impact on District 15 and residents within our communities."
District 15 -- the second-largest elementary district in the state -- would be most affected by the Payments in Lieu of Taxes financing mechanism proposed in Senate Bill 1350, as the 326-acre shuttered racetrack property is entirely within the boundaries of the K-8 district. District 211 covers the western third of the sprawling site -- mostly where the Bears' new stadium would be -- while District 214 covers the balance, where a mixed-use district of homes, restaurants, stores, offices and hotels is proposed.
The legislation, filed Monday by Democratic state Sen. Ann Gillespie of Arlington Heights, would allow developers of "mega projects" -- those worth at least $500 million -- to make payments to local taxing bodies like schools while also getting an assessment freeze of up to 40 years. Under the proposal, the Bears' payments would be negotiated, but it's the village of Arlington Heights -- not the school districts -- that would be doing the negotiating.
Gillespie, an admitted skeptic of her own bill, said she filed it so that it could be part of a larger conversation about her long-sought reforms to tax-increment financing.
Before the PILOT mechanism was floated in recent weeks by the Bears and business groups including the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, Gillespie and Heinz both went on record last fall opposing a possible Bears TIF, in which property taxes above a certain level would be diverted from schools and other taxing bodies into the Bears' redevelopment costs.
Heinz said this week that even the PILOT would shift development costs from the Bears potentially to local taxpayers.
Supporters behind the arrangement vow it wouldn't lead to an increase in local property taxes. The Bears have pledged to privately finance construction of the stadium itself but said they're seeking "property tax certainty" and public help for infrastructure costs.
Ares Dalianis, an attorney with Chicago-based Franczek P.C. and general counsel for a number of suburban school districts, has been leading the behind-the-scenes effort on behalf of the Northwest suburban districts for months. After getting a draft of the so-called PILOT bill from Arlington Heights officials on Jan. 25, Dalianis and the three area superintendents interviewed eight prospective lobbyists Tuesday and Wednesday, and they plan to narrow the list Friday before finalizing a selection.
As a result, the District 214 and District 15 board votes didn't come with a name, contract or fee -- only that they authorize hiring a lobbyist when the time comes. District 15's board took a step further, saying that it wants someone to represent them not only with regards to the PILOT bill but also on the Bears' project overall.
Dalianis said it's likely a lobbyist would charge between $7,000 and $11,000 per month and be needed for a 5-month term. The fee would be split among the three districts.
He said the Bears have already retained three lobbyists.
Meanwhile, Dalianis said he walked the racetrack site with an appraiser who is calculating preliminary numbers based on the 2022 assessment year. Dalianis also has a planner who has been reviewing the Bears' publicly released conceptual plans to make estimates on how many residential bedrooms and prospective students there could be.
The planner is due to present that preliminary data Friday, which will be useful in determining a property value estimate, and eventually, what the school districts think the Bears' payment to them should be, Dalianis said.
Without the PILOT mechanism, he estimated the Bears redevelopment could stand to generate $150 million a year in taxes for District 214.
"It will be imposing a burden on the taxpayers of Elk Grove, Wheeling, Palatine and Schaumburg townships in a meaningful way for a 40-year period for the benefit of constructing a privately owned NFL football stadium," Dalianis told the District 214 board. "That's the only way to put it."