ROCKFORD — The decision last month by the Winnebago County Board to hand over nearly $1.7 million to the city of Loves Park to help pay for infrastructure improvements to East Riverside and Interstate boulevards passed narrowly by a vote of 11-8 with one abstention.
And three of the yes votes came from board members who are no longer on the board.
For that reason, and nearly 1.7 million others, County Board Chairman Frank Haney informed board members late Thursday of his decision to veto the Nov. 20 decision. He wants the newly seated board, which has four new members, to reconsider Loves Park's subsidy request at Thursday's County Board meeting.
"The constructive dialogue that this reconsideration will force in the next week is important and, frankly, needed. It may be more important than the re-vote itself," Haney said in a memo to board members provided to the Register Star. "This is about how we do the business of economic development in our community going forward."
By law, Haney had 10 business days from time of the Nov. 20 board meeting to veto the board's decision. Because of Thanksgiving Day and the weather-related closing of county offices on Nov. 26, Haney gained two extra business days to mull his decision.
Loves Park Mayor Greg Jury is disappointed by Haney's decision, saying the city had been in talks with Haney and board members for about nine months over the subsidy.
"To me that shows that he has no faith in the County Board that voted it in already," Jury said.
Haney has opposed the subsidy request from the start, saying that county government should not subsidize retail development because new stores tend to cannibalize existing retail businesses and jobs in the region. Loves Park officials are requesting the subsidy to spur future commercial development around the recently approved Costco wholesale store.
Costco serves as the catalyst for the infrastructure improvements, but Jury said the subsidy is not needed for the wholesaler but to build access to 600 acres of shovel-ready sites.
"A lot of those sites are on the (Rockford Area Economic Development Council) pipeline for projects that are coming to the area," Jury said. "But we have to get the infrastructure to it."
At the Nov. 20 meeting, the County Board voted to dip into its host fee fund to pay Loves Park $280,000 a year for the next six years for a total of $1.68 million. Among the 11 yes votes were those cast by Gary Jury, R-7; Eli Nicolosi, R-8; and L.C. Wilson, D-14.
Since that time, however, Jury, Nicolosi, Wilson, and Ted Biondo, R-20, have been replaced by four newly elected board members — Paul Arena, R-7; John Butitta, R-8; Tim Nabors Jr., D-14; and Jas Bilich, R-20.
Haney hopes to secure enough votes to overturn the previous board's decision.
Political leaders of other towns in Winnebago County have also written to board members either to express concern or flat-out object to the subsidy for Loves Park.
"I do not remember a time when the County Board has diverted tipping fee money to attract commercial development for one community to the detriment of other communities," Timothy Owens, New Milford's village president, wrote to Haney.
"This is setting a dangerous precedent by giving Costco these funds from the County Board. Arguably, once Costco is up and running it will divert shoppers from other currently existing stores to the Costco development. This is not fair to the current retailers located within our community."
Rockton Village President Dale Adams, South Beloit Mayor Ted Rehl and Cherry Valley Village President Jim Claeyssen also wrote to board members, questioning the decision.
"To be clear, the county has a unique role in economic development and expending host fee dollars for retail development should not be done for any community, not just Loves Park," the joint letter reads. "To do otherwise will place the county in an unenviable position in which it will be faced for requests of money for ALL retail projects in EVERY municipality in Winnebago County, an effort the county cannot possibly support."
Greg Jury said Loves Park has been fiscally prudent enough to pay for the project without the county's financial support. However, he said the city shouldn't be punished for being good stewards of taxpayer money. He said the county will benefit from the development through property and sales taxes.
The county’s host fee fund generates money by charging fees to waste haulers who dump trash at the privately owned Winnebago Landfill. The money collected is designated for economic development projects.
However, that fund may have less money in it than board members once thought. Haney and County Administrator Carla Paschal told the board on Nov. 20 that they had been informed that Waste Connections — the Houston, Texas-based company that owns the landfill — is claiming it has overpaid the county $3.3 million in host fees over the past decade.
The county administration is investigating the claim.
Kevin Haas contributed to this report.
Chris Green: 815-987-1241; firstname.lastname@example.org; @chrisfgreen