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Growth Conference points way to funding possibilities

Local officials learn ways to capitalize on funding opportunities

Nancy Hill, a financial adviser from Ehlers Inc., speaks about the importance of preparing for community development and attracting developers at the 7th Annual Grundy County Growth Conference Friday morning in Morris.
Nancy Hill, a financial adviser from Ehlers Inc., speaks about the importance of preparing for community development and attracting developers at the 7th Annual Grundy County Growth Conference Friday morning in Morris.

The seventh annual Grundy County Growth Conference held by the Community Foundation of Grundy County took a closer look at funding opportunities for municipalities this year.

The theme for the event Friday was "Funding for Local Units of Government" and had four presentations. About 50 participants came to the conference, said Julie Buck, executive director of the Community Foundation.

"Even as a rookie citizen sitting here, I know we have a gas tax, Hotel Motel tax ... but are there some other creative things we can do to increase revenue?" asked Buck.

The goal is to share funding opportunities and resources with local leaders. The base for this year's conference is the foundation's "Vital Signs of Grundy County," which is a report that collected data across 10 topic areas: economy, employment, housing, health, environment, education and learning, transportation, safety, financial health and social health.

The speakers for the conference were Rick Mattoon of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, speaking on "Midwest Economic Outlook;" Nancy Hill and Sid Inman of Ehlers Inc., presenting on "Making the Best Deal for Your Community;" Marianne Shank of the Illinois Government Finance Officers Association on "Locally Controlled Revenue: Comparisons and Contrasts;" and Mike Hoffman of Teska Associates, speaking on "TIF Success Stories (and a possible failure)."

Just two presentations in, Martha Stephenson, a Lisbon trustee, said the conference was already helpful for her.

"We're looking for funding for some different projects and funding is a new situation for me. I'm a former business owner in Coal City and, of course, there was no funding," she said. "I want as much information as possible before we embark on those projects. I find this very interesting."

Presenter Hill said the key to "Making the Best Deal for Your Community" is starting with educating elected and appointed officials about economic development and the tools available.

Without proper education, a municipality could lose out on a development, she said. For example, if a developer comes in asking to be a part of a Tax Increment Finance District (TIF), and there are too many questions regarding the TIF itself, the potential deal could get lost due to ignorance.

A TIF District freezes the assessed value of properties in the district. Any tax money generated from increases in value of those properties then goes into a special fund to be used to improve properties in the district.

Hill also explained the importance of revisiting development projects and the agreements municipalities have with them.

"It's important from a financial perspective to look at where your projects are now," she said.

Municipal officials should check if developers have done what they promised the city, village or county it would do. Are their revenue projections up to date? Have they met the conditions of the agreement?

Understanding your community's current real estate market and trends is also key. With Grundy County's small town, Hill said officials need to recognize they are never going to get a high-end Nordstrom store.

"Every project is different and looking for different characteristics, and you need to know what those characteristics are," she said.

Hill's co-presenter Inman told the crowd of municipal, school and development officials they need to be prepared to negotiate with developers and to identify the developer's financial goals. Municipalities need to make sure their financial assistance is really necessary to make the project feasible.

He instructed them to always ask for the developer's "Pro Forma Analysis," which provides an analysis of the proposed project's financial gap, its financial strength, and helps determine if the project is worthy of taxpayer money.

Municipalities also need to include a "Look Back Provision," where at the completion of the project the municipality reviews the actual information to see the financial success of the project. If the amount of financial assistance the municipality provided was higher than necessary for the developer to make a reasonable profit, the amount should be reduced, he said.

Kyla Waltermire, Morris Public Library director, returned to the conference for her second year after receiving helpful resources for funding previously.

"I thought the discussion about the overview of the United States and Midwest's economy, as it stands right now, was very insightful," she said. "It was information I did not have before."

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