“Some elected officials use it like a piggy bank,” Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough said. “As taxpayers, we should be concerned. We should pay attention.” [Heather Cherone/The Daily Line]

Chicago’s 138 tax increment financing districts claimed 35 percent of the property taxes collected by the city, according to a new report by Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough.

Demolishing the record set the previous year, $841 million poured into the city’s TIF funds in 2018 — approximately 35 percent of the nearly $2.4 billion in property tax revenue banked by city officials. In 2017, 31 percent of the city’s property tax revenue ended up earmarked for use in a TIF district.

Yarbrough was elected in November to replace veteran Clerk David Orr who made TIF reform a centerpiece of his 28 years in office. Yarbrough said she was “brushing up” on how the county’s special taxing districts operate. Chicago’s TIF districts are controlled by the mayor and City Council.

“Some elected officials use it like a piggy bank,” Yarbrough said. “As taxpayers, we should be concerned. We should pay attention.”

In all, Chicago’s TIFs took in $181 million more in 2018 than they did in 2017, a 27.4 percent increase, according to the report. That surge was driven in part by a 12.5 percent jump in the equalized assessed value of all properties in the city as part of the 2018 reassessment.

The jump was also fueled by the $588 million property tax hike approved in 2015 by the City Council to shore up the city’s police and fire pensions as well as a development boom in the Loop and North Side.

The burst of additional TIF revenue could ease the city’s budget crisis by allowing Mayor Lori Lightfoot to declare more TIF funds to be in surplus — returning them to the city, Chicago Public Schools and other taxing districts.

Related: Facing ‘significant deficit,’ Lightfoot gives her team another month to close gap

As part of Chicago’s budget for the 2019 fiscal year, former Mayor Rahm Emanuel declared a $175 million TIF surplus, which allowed $97 million to be redirected to CPS.

TIF districts capture all growth in the property tax base in a designated area for a set period of time, usually 20 years or more, and divert it into a special fund for projects designed to spur redevelopment and eradicate blight.

The leadership of the Chicago Teachers Union wasted no time Wednesday in laying claim to the additional funds — calling for “every penny” to be spent on neighborhood schools.

“If the mayor is serious about real equity for South and West Side neighborhoods and real educational justice for our students, she’ll do what’s right — and direct those funds to settle our contract demands to create the schools our students deserve,” said Chicago Teacher Union President Jesse Sharkey said in a statement.

CTU was highly critical of Emanuel’s use of TIF funds, saying they improperly moved money from schools to private developments.

The new Transit TIF district formed by the city in the waning days of the Obama Administration to fund the renovation of the CTA’s Red and Purple Train Lines accounts for approximately one-third of the overall increase in TIF revenue, according to the report.

Of the $115.7 million generated in 2018 by the Transit TIF in 2018 — up from $40.2 million in 2017 — $60 million is earmarked for CPS under a unique provision of the state law that created the first, and so far only, Transit TIF district.

That is in addition to any funds CPS could get from the city or from a Lightfoot-declared TIF surplus, perhaps giving Lightfoot a pool to draw from to ink a contract with the CTU. The union’s leaders have been pressing for pay raises and additional investments in schools.

While most of Chicago’s highest performing TIFs are in or near Downtown, revenue collected by the Pilsen Industrial Corridor TIF increased 26 percent, adding $20.6 million to its coffers. City officials have been working to combat gentrification in Pilsen, which was once a primarily Mexican American neighborhood.