Sears tax arrangement draws questions from Hoffman Estates schools

November 8, 2011

(WBEZ/Susie An)
Sears and other big companies have been threatening to move their headquarters out of Illinois because of corporate taxes.

Supporters of a northwest suburban school district are worried a plan to give tax breaks to Sears could hurt their district for the next 15 years. 

There's a one-of-a-kind tax district in Hoffman Estates called an Economic Development Area - or EDA. It was designed in the late 1980s to keep Sears in Illinois until 2012 by giving the company tax breaks.  An amendment filed Monday for the state Senate bill aimed at retaining big companies like Sears would also extend the EDA. 

The EDA's land is in school district 300 and they are thus eligible for property tax money. Allison Strupeck is the Director of Communications for the district. Although her district's schools are not located in Hoffman Estates, she said of the roughly $16 million dollars in school property taxes paid by businesses within the EDA, only $2.9 million actually goes to schools. She said more money should be making it to schools, but that millions are instead going to the Village of Hoffman Estates.

"We want to make sure that any legislation does not give unnecessary and inappropriate funding to the Village of Hoffman Estates which manages this Economic Development Area," Strupeck said. "Nobody really knows what the Village of Hoffman Estates does with the $5.5 to $6 million dollars that it gets every year in school property taxes from the EDA."

Strupeck said parents and concerned citizens have filed Freedom of Information Act requests to learn how the Village spends the money it receives, but so far they have not been successful in getting information.

Hoffman Estates Mayor Bill McLeod called district 300's complaints a smear campaign. He said the the EDA gets yearly audits and is regulated by the state. He said audit information is freely available on the Village's website. He also said money the Village gets from the EDA goes to maintaining the area.

Both the district and the Village want Sears to stay in Hoffman Estates, but the district is lobbying for additional oversight of the EDA written into the current legislation.

The House is expected to review the bill Tuesday morning.

Correction: An earlier version of the story misidentified the school district lobbying against the EDA legislation. District 300 does not operate any schools in Hoffman Estates.