Park Ridge owes cash to schools, District 64 says

Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 headquarters at 164 S. Prospect Ave. in Park Ridge.
Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 headquarters at 164 S. Prospect Ave. in Park Ridge.

The city of Park Ridge and Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 are clashing when it comes to money owed to the district.

District 64 officials are demanding payments owed under the city’s 2003 Tax Increment Finance District agreement — payments that are based on the number of new students who have moved into the Uptown TIF District and any new property that is added to the tax rolls.

But the city hasn’t paid up. Top city administrators say they’re struggling to verify that District 64 is owed what it says it’s owed.

According to District 64 Superintendent Philip Bender, the annual payments were due by Dec. 15, 2013, but the district is still waiting to receive them.

City Manager Shawn Hamilton said the city hasn’t met its financial obligation because staff have not yet verified the data they received from District 64 regarding new student numbers.

“We had not, in my opinion, received what I thought was good information from them to validate the data,” Hamilton told the City Council on March 3.

According to District 64 Business Manager Rebecca Allard, the city of Park Ridge owes District 64 roughly $144,000 in new student payments. Payments for new property totaled $493,441.68 for 2012, the last time this payment was made.

Allard told the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate that city officials have not clarified exactly what they want from District 64.

“I’m still waiting to hear what’s wrong with the data we have,” she said, explaining that Hamilton and Oliven have questioned the “integrity” of the data District 64 submitted.

“I don’t know what that means,” Allard said. “If they want data in a different format, I need to know that and I’d be happy to comply with it.”

District 64 Board President Anthony Borrelli said last week that the school board has not discussed the matter, but has asked for further information to be shared during a meeting on March 24.

“Up until now, the board has not had any communication with the city of Park Ridge,” he said. “The administration has, but not the board.”

Hamilton also told elected officials that district administrators had initially declined to meet with him to discuss a strategic plan that was developed by a firm hired to help the city identify ways to reduce the financial loss it is experiencing from the failing Uptown TIF District. One of the recommendations in the report was making changes to the city’s financial obligations to District 64, Maine Township High School District 207 and the Park Ridge Park District.

There has been no action taken by any of the governmental bodies to make changes to the TIF agreement.

District 207 reported no new students in the TIF District in 2013, Hamilton said.

The city received District 64’s calculation of the new student payment on Jan. 9, both the city manager and superintendent agree. But Bender claims that Hamilton first questioned the data on Feb. 26, something Hamilton says is not true.

“Some of our issues with those payments may or may not involve legal matters,” he told the City Council. “We don’t know. That’s part of the investigation we’re going through.”

But the city’s finance director, Kent Oliven, acknowledged that he needs help in calculating the data to make certain it matches up with District 64’s numbers.

“New student data is a difficult thing to determine and we’re having difficulty in determining it,” he said. “There’s no amount we are comfortable with right now.”

Bender said District 64 remains willing to work with the city “to rectify any issues relating to the information. We believe we have been in compliance all along with all the information they need.”

When asked if the district may consider legal action against the city if it is not paid soon, Bender repeated that the district is “still working through things” to reach a resolution with the city.

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