Viola explores getting a TIF

Cathy Decker/Staff reporter
The downtown Viola area is included in a proposed Tax Increment Financing District the Village of Viola is seeking to pass.

The Village of Viola has been looking at ways to boost economic development over the past two years, with the aim at establishing a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district and redevelopment plan. On Monday, Nov. 24, 2008 the Joint Review Board met for the first time at the Viola Village Hall. The meeting was to acquaint the overlapping taxing bodies on the proposed TIF district and redevelopment plan.

The Joint Review Board usually meets annually, Steven Kline of The Economic Development Group, Ltd., of Bloomington, told the five representative taxing bodies who showed up for the meeting.

Kline said he has been working with the village on the TIF act. The Joint Review Board, after a three hour meeting agreed that the objectives and eligibility requirements of the TIF act had been met at the meeting and approved Viola's plan, allowing the village to move forward in creating a TIF. This approval is nonbinding.

The next step is for public notices to be published announcing a public hearing on the topic. That hearing is set for Dec. 22, 2008 at 6 p.m. at Viola Village Hall. Besides all property owners located within the TIF district receiving letters about the TIF public hearing, any resident within 750 feet of the TIF boundary is also invited.

Invitations were sent to all required taxing bodies for the Joint Review Board meeting held Monday. Those invited to the meeting also received the draft proposal for the TIF, that included a map of the area, the plans and possible projects that would be supported by the TIF.

Kline pointed out that a TIF district once formed lasts for 23 years and can only support projects that  are within the scope of why the TIF was created.

The group elected Rebecca Rodocker, Superintendent of the Sherrard School district as the chairperson of the group. Eric Anderson, a Viola resident, was nominated as a resident of the community to serve on the board. At the annual meeting a year from the creation of the TIF this Joint Review Board will look at all TIF revenues and expenditures and review the redevelopment agreements the village has entered into. The Viola Village Board is expected to ratify the TIF plan in January, Kline said.

The main purpose for Viola's TIF, according to Kline is to encourage ecomomic development within the village. There are three main areas for development - light industrial expansion, commercial expansion and residential expansion. The village hopes to increase employment opportunites, as well as its population, to expand the local tax base and manage growth and the overall value and quality of life for its residents.

Area within the TIF includes some residential areas, the downtown and the industrial area on the west side of the village along Ill. Route 17. It also encompasses Miles Memorial Park and areas north towards the village's sewer lagoons.

Viola qualifies for TIF eligible funding because of several factors including the September Mercer County unemployment rate (6.1 percent), because of declining assessed valuations, because of the age of a number of its houses (built more than 35 years ago), because of blighted areas and because there is a conservation need in some areas.

"There are old downtown areas not reinvested in for some time," said Kline. He also pointed to areas of village infrastructure that could qualify for TIF, such as streets, sewer and water.

A map of the proposed TIF area within the village includes the west edge of town on both sides of Ill. Route 17, including the property on the south side of the highway adjacent to Viola United Presbyterian Church; also included in the TIF district are both of the old Viola Schools, Miles Memorial Park and the area leading out to the village lagoons. There are a number of exempted plots noted on the map, that one Joint Review Board member asked about.

Kline said the exempted lots are either churches or lots owned by members of the Viola Village Board. According to the TIF act, board members can not own property within a TIF district, Kline said.

He said the TIF is going to help all taxing districts, eventually. "Without some type of intervention or program most small towns do not see an incentive to invest," he said. The TIF acts as a stimuli to improve economic development.

Within the village of Viola there are 32 vacant parcels within the TIF. "A number of structures are of age and could be at risk for further deterioration," he added.

Another board members said his house was located within the TIF boundary, but was in good shape.

Kline said that not every property has to qualify. "The area as a whole has to qualify," he said. "At least 51 percent has to qualify because of continuity issues."

Kline pointed out that one thing that will not change after the TIF is approved by the village board is the TIF boundary to add property to the TIF. "Not without another seven month process of starting over," he added.