Dollar General Site Plan Presented

The Nauvoo Planning & Zoning Committee held a special meeting to review the site plans for the proposed Dollar General store to be built in Nauvoo on March 28th. The store is to be located at 1645 Mulholland on the lot currently owned by the State Bank of Nauvoo. The representative from Dollar General answered questions by both the committee and citizens who attended the meeting. This meeting was streamed live on the openNauvoo facebook page.

Of particular interest were sign location and size. The proposed plan included a sign that was too large to comply with City Ordinance. A 5 foot by 10 foot sign was proposed, it will be reduced to 4 foot by 8 foot.  Height was also a concern, with the committee proposing a ground level sign, rather than the 15 foot height allowed by ordinance. The Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) will still weigh in on this decision. There was also a request to increase the number of handicapped parking spaces, to support Nauvoo’s aging community (the Committee’s words, not ours).

We were pleased to hear that the proposed building will feature a brick facade on the front to help fit in with the historic nature of Nauvoo. This was in contrast to reports we had heard. The citizens in attendance were supportive of this design, and glad to hear it would try to fit in.

A theme from the Dollar General representative was being a “good neighbor.” The proposed plans seemed to take may items into consideration that could affect the neighborhood. Even though it will be located on Mulholland, alongside homes (also zoned commercial, and used for commercial purposes), the choices in lighting, setbacks from property lines, and access seemed to have made every concession possible while still using the property as the zoning laws allow.

The Dollar General representative indicated construction would typically take 90 days, and would likely be open after the tourist season, in late August.

We encourage Nauvoo citizens to review the meeting, available online.

Another Dollar General location, with a brick facade and ground level sign.
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County Board Appoints State’s Attorney Without Notice

On March 20, 2018, the Hancock County Board appointed Rachel Mast as interim State’s Attorney to complete the term of Jason Pohren. Pohren died on March 19 of an apparent heart attack.

The Board meeting that considered this appointment was not advertised as required by the State’s Open Meetings Act (48 hours prior to the meeting) on the County website, which is maintained by a full-time employee. In fact, the website stated that there were “No Upcoming Meetings Scheduled.” The purpose of the agenda is to allow the public to prepare and make public comment on those issues that concern them.  The appointment of a State’s Attorney is very consequential. This item was not included on a legally posted agenda 48 hours prior to the meeting. This appointment is not in compliance with the Open Meetings Act.

The previous State’s Attorney had “conflicts of interest” which prevented him from pursuing cases involving Nauvoo officials, and had a poor record of prosecuting sex offenders in Nauvoo. Citizens would like to ensure that whoever is considered for this position is free from conflicts, intends to enforce the law, and will be tough on sexual abuse of children. Perhaps Rachel Mast is the right person, but this decision must be made with citizen involvement, in a legal manner.

In apparent disregard for the statute, Hancock County Board President Delbert Kreps said that Rachel Mast was appointed Tuesday night in the County Board Meeting. She was scheduled to be sworn in at 9am Wednesday morning.

openNauvoo has filed a request for the Attorney General’s Office to review this case, and to invalidate all actions taken at this improper meeting.

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Big Night for Nauvoo City

March 13, 2018 was a big night for Nauvoo City. The City Council meeting featured a number of items. The Tourism Director contract was extended (with a mixed mention of “contractor” and “salary” and “hiring”) for another 90 days. The hourly rate for City Employees was increased by 3%, and the City Collector and Treasurer was increased by an additional $1/hr each . Although a list of reasons was presented, the emphasis seemed to be on the number of hours required to reply to FOIA requests (an additional article is being prepared outlining all the costs associated with failing to comply with FOIA). The City Council also voted to hire a professional firm to manage TIF, which is great news, and the unused volume cap funds were transferred to WIEDA (please review the City Attorney’s explanation in the meeting, and then read our article for clarification).

The big draw for the night was obviously the LDS Church’s Historic Sites presentation. Largely well received, it did solicit a number of questions from the Council and the citizens in attendance.

View the entire meeting here.

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How WIEDA Works

The City Council agenda for March 13th includes an item related to the Western Illinois Economic Development Authority (WIEDA). Specifically, transferring the Volume Cap of the City of Nauvoo to WIEDA. In conversations with Andrew Hamilton, Executive Director of WIEDA, we learned how this program works.

The federal government created the ability for states to create these districts (like a port authority in other locations) that would allow businesses, factories, etc. to gain access to a benefit that previously had only been available to actual municipalities themselves–“tax free financing”. Now, this is not to say that WIEDA loans money, it simply passes this unique characteristic of tax exempt financing on to those financial institutions who loan funds to qualified businesses. Normally, a city government can borrow money at a better rate than an individual, in part because the financial institution will not have to pay taxes on the interest it collects. What this “tax free financing” does is allow banks and other financial institutions to make loans to qualifying businesses, and claim a tax exempt status on the interest fees they collect. As an example, the bank may be required to pay 2% taxes on a loan that it collected 6% interest on. With “tax free financing” status, they would not be required to pay the 2% in taxes, and so could offer the same loan at 4%, with the bank retaining the same profitability.

Only certain types of business can qualify for this type of financing, and WIEDA has a process to follow. In reality, the City of Nauvoo can offer these bonds. The State of Illinois allocates its limit of this kind of incentive to approximately $1.3 billion. This is allocated by population at a rate of $105/inhabitant. In Illinois this is broken down by local governments, with Home Rule communities (like Nauvoo) being granted their allocation of eligibility. There is one problem. The legal process to use these funds can amount to $30,000 in fees. And with less than $100,000 available to be allocated in the City of Nauvoo, it is unlikely it would be used. And, the state of Illinois says that if a City does not use its allocation by April 1 of the year, it loses it (which is a polite way of saying the State takes it back and uses it as it sees fit). WIEDA solves this problem by taking the allocation of smaller communities, pooling it together, and allocating to larger projects in Western Illinois which can justify the expensive legal fees.

That is not to say that Nauvoo could not be a candidate. Our conversation with Mr Hamilton was very helpful, and it seems that there are businesses that could be interested in Nauvoo that might benefit from this kind of program. As a part of a larger recruiting package to attract business, it is a definite plus. To be clear, WIEDA does not loan money, or help get financing. What WIEDA does it make that money potentially more affordable, by helping to get a lower interest rate, through the “tax free financing” it can provide to lenders.

Transferring Nauvoo’s volume cap seems a very worthwhile effort. We also hope to see a potential employer for Nauvoo taking advantage of it.

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Western Illinois Economic Development Authority Act

The City Council agenda for March 13, 2018 includes an ordinance authorizing the ceding of private activity bonding authority, by transferring of 2018 home rule volume cap to Western Illinois Economic Development Authority.

(70 ILCS 532/5) 
    Sec. 5. Short title. This Act may be cited as the Western Illinois Economic Development Authority Act. 
(Source: P.A. 93-874, eff. 8-6-04.)

 

    (70 ILCS 532/10) 
    Sec. 10. Findings. The General Assembly determines and declares the following: 
    (1) that labor surplus areas currently exist in western Illinois; 
    (2) that the economic burdens resulting from involuntary unemployment fall, in part, upon the State in the form of increased need for public assistance and reduced tax revenues and, in the event that the unemployed worker and his or her family migrate elsewhere to find work, the burden may also fall upon the municipalities and other taxing districts within the areas of unemployment in the form of reduced tax revenues, thereby endangering their financial ability to support necessary governmental services for their remaining inhabitants; 
    (3) that the State has a responsibility to help create a favorable climate for new and improved job opportunities for its citizens by encouraging the development of commercial and service businesses and industrial and manufacturing plants within the western region of Illinois; 
    (4) that a lack of decent housing contributes to urban blight, crime, anti-social behavior, disease, a higher need for public assistance, reduced tax revenues, and the migration of workers and their families away from areas which fail to offer adequate, decent, and affordable housing; 
    (5) that decent, affordable housing is a necessary ingredient of life affording each citizen basic human dignity, a sense of self-worth, confidence, and a firm foundation upon which to build a family and educate children; 
    (6) that in order to foster civic and neighborhood pride, citizens require access to educational institutions, recreation, parks and open spaces, entertainment, sports, a reliable transportation network, cultural facilities, and theaters; and 
    (7) that the main purpose of this Act is to promote industrial, commercial, residential, service, transportation, and recreational activities and facilities, thereby reducing the evils attendant upon unemployment and enhancing the public health, safety, morals, happiness, and general welfare of the State. 
(Source: P.A. 93-874, eff. 8-6-04.)
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What We Know About Promotional Fees

Under the previous Hotel Motel Tax Board and its Tourism Director, a system was created that allowed hotel-motel accommodations outside the city limits of Nauvoo to be represented on the website funded by tax revenues collected by the City.  This process appears to be in direct conflict with the state and city statutes and ordinances which govern hotel-motel tax collections. They state that these funds may be used“solely to promote tourism and conventions within the municipality or otherwise to attract nonresident overnight visitors to the municipality.” So, tourism and conventions within the municipality, or to doing other things which would attract nonresident visitors to the municipality. Nothing about promoting competitors to the business within the municipality.  In fact the statute (and city ordinance) actually state that the funds cannot be used to  “advertise for, or otherwise promote, new competition in the hotel business.”

“solely to promote tourism and conventions within the municipality or otherwise to attract nonresident overnight visitors to the municipality.”

Regardless, the process was implemented, and numerous businesses, still represented on the City’s site today, were added. As we previously reported, each business signed an agreement, and was required to file monthly reports with the City, and to pay a 3% fee for the promotion (in spite of the fact that businesses within the City pay a 7% tax to the City, with the Hotel Motel Board keeping 3.5%). So, under this arrangement, the Tourism Office received 3% and the City received nothing.

funds cannot be used to  “advertise for, or otherwise promote, new competition in the hotel business.”

Some additional interesting facts about the Promotion Fee process:

  • The address these fees were being sent to is not the City of Nauvoo’s PO Box. For unknown reasons, it was changed when the form was created.
  • These payments were not made payable to the City of Nauvoo (as every other payment the City receives is, and law requires), but the form was changed to require they be paid to the “Tourism Office”
  • While the agreement required monthly filing of these forms, and payment of these fees, they were routinely filed late, not at all, or incomplete payments were made.
  • Late fees required by the contract were not paid when there was a failure to submit the form required.
  • Attempts by openNauvoo since April of 2017 to obtain this accounting information to ensure all funds were properly received, submitted to the City, and recorded have been refused by the City’s FOIA Officer. There is a current court complaint relating to this issue, as well as a case with the Attorney General’s Office for review.

Regardless of what issues may arise, it is time for full transparency. A full accounting is needed.

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