Quick refresher: Local and state governments sometimes use subsidies to encourage the redevelopment of economically challenged areas. Tax-increment financing (TIF) has been an increasingly common tool used for this purpose. TIFs allow cities and towns to borrow against future tax revenues from an area in order to invest in immediate infrastructure or development projects.

When a TIF district is created, it freezes the taxable value of property under a TIF agreement with a developer for 23 years, diverting any additional revenue that results from increased property values or new development into a separate fund overseen by the city. Generally, TIF money is to be used for community improvement, such as affordable housing development, improving parks and schools, fixing basic infrastructure, putting vacant land to use, creating well-paying jobs, and meeting other local needs.

Want to know if you live in a TIF district?

The Cook County Clerk, David Orr, has a TIF property search function on his website to let people know, not only if their property is within a TIF district, but also how much of their property taxes goes to the TIF.

In order to access this information, you will need your "Property Index Number" (PIN). Don't know your PIN? You can find it by searching on the Cook County Assessor's website. Once you have your PIN, enter it into the search function on the County Clerk's website and it will let you know if your property is in a TIF district. If it is, there will be a report of what percentage of your property taxes in 2009 went to the TIF district (and all other taxing bodies).Then, multiply your total property tax amount by the percentage and there you have it! You will then know how much of your tax dollars are going towards your neighborhood TIF district.

Whew. That's a lot of steps. Wouldn't it just be easier if the County gave you that information on your property tax bill every year?