Barb City Action Committee & TIF

There are honest people of good faith who belong to the Barb City Action Committee. There really are.

However, it makes good sense to try to tease out the motives for any organized political action, especially one that launched itself out of nowhere and appears to have “shadow” members as well.

Recently I donned my thinking cap, closed my eyes, and envisioned a pack of jackals snarling at each other over the remnants of a carcass. This is the image that occurs whenever I think about TIF projects being pushed for approval by the DeKalb city council as the TIF districts approach expiration.

I think I’m onto something.

First, we have the PAC’s relationship with City of DeKalb’s paid cheerleader organization, the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce. Barb City Action Committee is the political arm of Proudly DeKalb, which is an alias of the longtime Chamber project called Renew DeKalb.

Because you can rarely, if ever, detect daylight between the city and Renew/Proudly folks, and because the PAC is vague about its goals, there’s no compelling reason to believe the founders would expend all of this energy, at this particular point in time, for the simple cause of good government.

And Renew/Proudly loves it some TIF, from the time it fought hard to get the city to buy the notorious skating rink. Now, they like the idea of building a “cultural triangle” in the city that includes a STEAM educational center.

Proudly held a “Leadership Academy” a couple months ago for potential candidates, where they emphasized the need for public bodies to work as “teams” in concert with building grand visions, and furthermore insinuated the “teams” could serve the public best by not actually listening to it.

City of DeKalb, for its part, has so far failed to wean itself off transfers from the TIF funds — almost $800,000 this year alone — into its General Fund for operations.

TIF District 2 expires in 2018, TIF 1/Central Area in 2020. I anticipate there will be a push for TIF 2 to be extended another 12 years, and for Central Area to be replaced with one or more new districts. This is because they are large, dependable slush funds for pet projects; Central Area alone has generated more than $160 million during its lifetime. (If you listen to the mayor, you know he’s already laying the groundwork for new TIFs with talk of future “pocket TIFs.”) Interested parties, like the ones involved in College Town Partners, could benefit from a TIF assist in the continued pursuit of retail development in the Fifth Ward near the river, and in the so-called Hillcrest Neighborhood near Greek Row — just to name a couple projects I’ve seen laid out in emails obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.

The trouble is, a new TIF district is probably a no-go without District 428’s enormous contributions to the property tax increment, as we saw a couple years ago when the city tried to get a TIF district approved for South Fourth Street and the district balked at participating. The district is strapped, and trying to act responsibly.

But what if there were an organization dedicated to packing both the city council and the board of education with — if not actual diehard TIF fans — at least people who are seen as potentially sympathetic or compliant? That’s what I think Barb City Action Committee is about.

Does this mean nobody should vote for any candidate who has been chosen by the PAC? No, it does not. Personally, I would not rule out voting for a PAC-endorsed person, because I don’t think many of the candidates the PAC lays claim to seem particularly thrilled about it, and I don’t know of anyone who has actually accepted money for campaigning.

Still, the associations and motivations are worth a few questions at the candidates’ forums, don’t you think?