GARY │ A proliferation of tax increment finance districts and employment opportunities for local residents were among the topics at a job compliance forum hosted by Gary officials Wednesday at the Genesis Convention Center.
Gary resident James Nowacki said he's concerned the city has too many TIF districts, a situation he thinks contributes “mightily” to the city’s problems. TIF revenue cannot be used to fund services such as police, fire, libraries and local transportation.
Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said there is a significant sum of money in the TIF districts, largely in the consolidated TIF that covers the development of the downtown area and the lakefront TIF that covers the casino area. The city also has funds in a TIF used for developing housing, she said.
Freeman-Wilson said TIF districts help lead to job creation. The district involving Truck City of Gary, which the mayor said is probably one of the largest parts and maintenance facilities for trucks in the country, was created when that company was on the verge of moving to Portage. The TIF allowed Truck City to expand its facility, which provides employment to local residents.
“One of the ways ensuring jobs are created and economic development is created is through the creation of TIF districts,” Freeman-Wilson said.
Freeman-Wilson went on to say the city will review the districts to determine which ones should be retired. She said a decision was made in a meeting Tuesday that it is appropriate to retire “four or five” TIF districts.
“We made that determination based on the fact we felt they lived out their usefulness,” she said.
Freeman-Wilson also said benefits of a TIF district allowed for the renovation of the Genesis Center, which has hosted the Harlem Globetrotters and the now-defunct “Seven on Ridge” talk show.
During the forum, city leaders explained the compliance guidelines for local, state and federal projects and how residents can be considered for jobs on those projects.
Also present was U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Merrillville, who said his office's goal is to ensure contractors seeking work in Gary have advanced notice of calls for bids.
“After work has started, after the contract has been awarded, that’s not doing you much good,” he said.
Freeman-Wilson said she wants to develop a task force designed to monitor the employment efforts, compliance efforts and the contracting efforts throughout the course of her administration.
“We believe this is only the beginning,” she said. “This is one of many steps in the right direction.”