Carbondale Council TIF

Carbondale’s Economic Development Director Steve Mitchell, left, addresses the Carbondale City Council in August about possibly creating a residential TIF district.

CARBONDALE — After receiving a letter a year ago from the American Civil Liberties Union, the City of Carbondale has decided to repeal its panhandling ordinance.

Last year, the ACLU co-signed a letter with the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless condemning the city’s ordinance against panhandling, and threatened legal action if it was not repealed. The ACLU sent a follow-up letter to the city last month.

The city’s ordinance prohibited panhandling, or the request for financial assistance, in any public space. It also made illegal any verbal request for aid, and requests made in groups larger than two.

The ordinance also made a point to prohibit “aggressive panhandling,” which it defined as blocking entrances to a car, building or a path of travel, as well as making unsolicited physical contact.

The letters from the ACLU made the argument that the ban violated the First Amendment by distinguishing between different kinds of speech that it will and won’t allow, namely peaceful requests for aid.

Questions raised in panhandling activities

The council’s detailed meeting agenda noted that it was in the best interest of the city to repeal the ordinance. It said that “as there are other ordinances that address issues related to aggressive panhandling, such as disorderly conduct, Staff will consider other options to address this issue which are content-neutral and which will withstand constitutional challenges.”

Before the meeting, council members Carolin Harvey, Tom Grant and Adam Loos all said that repealing the ordinance was better for the taxpayer than engaging in a costly lawsuit that there was a good chance the city would lose.

However, Loos did qualify the statement by saying that given the policies put forth by the current administration in Washington, he felt the ACLU’s priorities were a bit out of place.

When asked for comment on the decision to repeal the ordinance, Diane O'Connell, a community lawyer for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, reiterated the legal reasons for the letter.

"Carbondale is the eleventh city in Illinois to have repealed its panhandling ordinance in the past year. The US Constitution guarantees that everyone has the right to ask for help, and these ordinances violated that mandate,” she wrote in an email Tuesday.

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Tuesday night’s meeting also featured a vote to increase the city’s video gambling fee for establishments that have terminals. This was a result of two previous discussions. The city’s new rules take the fee schedule of a flat $25 per terminal to a fee based on a business’ annual net incomes from having the terminals. These fees range from $100 to $750 per year per machine. The ordinance also makes a similar change to the companies that manage and lease the gaming terminals.

The ordinance goes into effect next year.

Also part of Tuesday’s meeting was a presentation by Carbondale Economic Development Director Steve Mitchell on the possibility of the city developing a residential tax increment financing district.

TIF districts often are used by cities to spur economic development. When a property owner either develops a building or improves it, typically, taxes would increase as the value of the property increases. In a TIF, a city pays back a portion of the higher taxes an investor has paid on a property where improvements increased its value.

Cities can use this model to spur growth in owner-occupied residences in neighborhoods and to give incentives for the improvement of rental properties.

Mitchell’s presentation used the Arbor District as its example. Councilman Jeff Doherty commented that he was very supportive of the idea. Arbor District residents who attended also were supportive.

Jane Adams is a resident of the neighborhood and said she was enthusiastic about the idea, but said with the TIF incentive there needed to be other development guidelines in place to ensure the integrity of the historic neighborhood is maintained. She also noted that the city needed to work to enforce these rules, something she said it has a poor track record of doing.

Councilwoman Jessica Bradshaw expressed concern about the potential of the TIF to reduce rental properties — she noted the number of subsidized housing units shown on the map used during the presentation. She suggested including landlords in the benefits to improve the many worn-out rental properties in town.

“How do we do this where we obviously want to provide more higher quality affordable living — not just affordable — but where people also don’t lose houses,” Bradshaw said, expressing concern that the TIF could encourage the demolition of houses.

Loos agreed.

“It’s still a win if we get better rental houses,” he said.

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