Monday, August 23, 2010

Revenue Hearing on STAR Bonds Uneventful

Around 40 community, elected officials and local business owners attended tonight's hearing/briefing by the Illinois Department of Revenue at John A. Logan College in Carterville.

Probably the biggest news was the agency's website now has a dedicated page for the Marion STAR Bonds at

So far the only information posted is the legislation and the notice for tonight's meeting. It also has an e-mail to contact the agency about the issue.

By Labor Day, the agency will post for comment and review the draft rules and regulations to implement the legislation. As additional items come up, they too will be posted at the site.

Officials present tonight included four from the state agency; Bruce Holland and his two nephews on his development team; state Sen. Gary Forby, D-Benton; state Rep. John Bradley, D-Marion; Mayor Robert Butler and most of the Marion City Council which moved tonight's regular meeting until Wednesday in order to attend. Marion's city administrator, treasurer, past and present city engineers and the Marion chamber executive were all present as well.

Carbondale Mayor Brad Cole came, but did not speak. George Sheffer, owner of Carbondale True Value and president of the Carbondale Chamber of Commerce took an active part in the questions and comments as did recently retired SIU-Carbondale Chancellor Samuel Goldman.

Mount Vernon's city manager Ron Neibert and its economic development director both attended with pointed questions coming from the former.

From Franklin County some of those in attendance included Franklin-Williamson Regional Superintendent of Schools Matt Donkin, Allan Patton from the Franklin County Regional Economic Development as well as businessman Bruce Morganstern of Pheasant Hollow Winery at Whittington.

JALC President Robert Mees welcomed everyone to the college. He too had at least one trustee present, Jake Rendleman.

(I know by this point this particular blog entry reads more like an old-fashioned social happenings article, but since I'm not writing for a newspaper, I can do this.)

Mike Clemons, manager of policy and development at the Department of Revenue outlined the goal of the project as set out by the legislation and endorsed by Gov. Quinn, the role of his agency in the development and what principles the agency would follow in carrying out its mission.

The goal he said was simple — creating jobs, new jobs he clarified later as opposed to jobs just shifted from one community to another. "Jobs for a lifetime," he quoted the governor.

Clemons explained the law requires Marion to come to the Director of Revenue for two key approvals in this project. The first is the District Plan and the second is the Project Plan.

In both cases it's the municipality's job to make the application to create the STAR bonds district, and then to select a master developer to carrying out the project.

For the District Plan, the Revenue Director must determine that the plan is in the public interest. For the Project Plan, the Director "has to find that the Project Plan is in accordance with the act and in the public interest".

Clemons flatly pointed out that the agency does not view those requirements as having the "Director of Revenue as rubber-stamping it".

As to the five principles the agency will follow in its rule-making and reviewing process, they will be as follows:

  1. Job creation

  2. Destination development — whether the plan will possess the ability to attract visitors from other states. The goal is to avoid displacement of jobs from area to the STAR Bonds district because that wouldn't be creating new jobs. "If we are going to create jobs in a retail sense we have to attract visitors from outside the area."

  3. Expertise — The project, he said, must be able to meet its job creation goals. Since the agency has no experience in economic development or STAR bonds, Clemons said they will be hiring outside consultants to help them.

  4. Accountability — assurance that taxpayer funds are properly spent.

  5. Partnership — "This must be a partnership that requires a group effort between state government and  Southern Illinois.
Clemons said the next critical steps would be in communications, regulations and the district application.

For communications he mentioned the state website at, which had added the new page specifically for the STAR Bonds project. For regulations, he reiterated the agency's pledge made earlier to the area lawmakers that it the draft rules would be posted by Labor Day and would be open for comments for a couple of weeks.

The next big step would be the district application filed by Marion which could be done as soon as they had the regulations in place to give the city "a clean idea of what's needed".

Butler started off the questions with a request for clarification on fifth principal of partnership. Clemons answered with the promise that the agency would work with all concerned. The agency didn't want to be a "roadblock, but a way to partner with you".

"We we give you. If you have an issue, we'll get you an answer. If you have a question, we will address it," he added, basically a pledge that their door would always be open and if someone didn't want to drive to Springfield, then just drop them a line by e-mail.

Goldman asked about the discussion of creating jobs versus creating new jobs. Clemons made clear that based on the language of the law, they were talking about creating new jobs.

The questions and comments continued from Carbondale and Mount Vernon folks wanting assurances that the project would be designed to benefit the entire region. At one point Clemons responded with the comment that "I think it would be a shame if it didn't benefit all of Southern Illinois".

More than once either Clemons or another one his agency's STAR bonds team confessed that they were "not sure how we ended up with this. We don't do economic development".

Again, after questioning from Mount Vernon, Clemons and his team stressed that the agency would be hiring outside consultants to help them determine if the project application met the requirements of the law and particularly how it impacted surrounding areas.

A key component will be to determine how much retail trade will be drawn in from surrounding states. As far as the department is concerned at the state level it makes them no difference if it's in Rockford or Carbondale where the state taxes are collected. It's only a benefit to the state if new money comes to the table from out-of-state residents spending new money in Illinois due to the development.

Goldman added later that it wasn't just out-of-state shoppers, it would also be local shoppers spending money in the area that now goes outside the state at St. Louis, Cape Girardeau, Paducah and Evansville.

More reactions from the crowd will be in tomorrow's newspapers and tonight on Channel 3.

UPDATE 8/24: The Southern now has Becky Malkovich's story online about last night's event — IDOR Talks STAR bonds. I've also corrected the spelling on Mr. Sheffer's name and added Mr. Neibert's.

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