February 10, 2010
When the Chicago City Council approved the Tax Increment Financing (TIF) Sunshine Amendment in April of 2009 that called for the creation of a consolidated and enhanced TIF information website, the City took a significant step towards improving the transparency of its TIF districts. Although the creation of the website improved the accessibility of some TIF information, the Civic Federation recognized that further additions and improvements could help with the City’s TIF transparency efforts.
In recent months the City has added useful information to the TIF website that has taken Chicago even further towards TIF transparency.
In December of 2009 the City uploaded a new document entitled “TIF Projection Report” for FY2009-FY2011." The document is a three-year plan used by the City to examine each TIF district’s resources and project balances to calculate the total amount of funding committed to specific projects and funding available for new projects. The document states that the report will be routinely updated with the most current information available. The PDF is searchable, making it easy for members of the public to find specific information. The Civic Federation commends the City for uploading this report and urges it to follow through on routine updates of the report. Furthermore, the Federation recommends that the City provide aggregate numbers for total amounts of TIF funding appropriated, committed, pending or on hold in order to allow members of the public to quickly obtain estimates in these categories for the City’s TIF districts as a whole. The Federation also recommends that the report include clear contact information at the Department of Community Development (DCD) specifically for members of the public with questions about information presented in the report.
The City made another improvement to the site on January 28, 2010, when it uploaded annual reports for each of the City’s TIF districts going back to 2004. Until then the site had only offered the most recent annual reports for each TIF district. These documents were uploaded to the website six months past the July 30, 2009 implementation date specified by the ordinance. Despite the delay, the Civic Federation commends the City for providing the public with online access to these documents and recommends that going forward the City build an archive of these documents going back at least ten years.
In its review of the website, the Federation found elements of the annual reports section of the website that could be improved. The Federation found broken links to a few of the annual reports and recommends that the city provide clear contact information at the DCD for members of the public interested in reporting broken links. The Civic Federation also found that the annual report PDFs are not searchable and recommends that in the future, the City upload all PDF documents to the TIF information website in a searchable format.
With these recent updates, the City has taken the initial steps towards improving the transparency of the use of TIF in Chicago. However, it will need to go further to create a truly transparent system. The financial data on the website could be greatly improved through the implementation of a user-friendly database of each TIF district’s financial data, similar to the database the Illinois Comptroller’s Office publishes annually of Comptroller’s Annual Financial Reports submitted by local governments. These changes would facilitate policy analysis and understanding of the City’s use of TIF and allow stakeholders to attain a better picture of the impact of TIF on the city as a whole.
For more information about the Civic Federation’s previous review of the TIF Information website, please see this blog post "Chicago TIF Still Cloudy, Even Under Sunshine Ordinance."