Validity of signatures on SSA support petition questioned but proposed taxing body could still move forward
by BRIAN NADIG
The proposed taxing body to help improve the Jefferson Park business district hit a potential roadblock at a Nov. 12 City Council Finance Committee hearing after concerns were raised that there were not enough valid signatures on the city’s required petition in support of the planned special service area.
It is not clear wether plans to create the taxing body will move forward, as city officials at the hearing did not comment on the charges of fraud and forgery which resident Ron Ernst claimed was involved in the collecting of some of the signatures. Ernst testified that the petition included the signatures of a woman who died last year and a man who has been in jail for several years.
The committee is scheduled to vote on the proposal at its meeting on Monday. Nov. 16, and Alderman John Area (45th) has voiced strong support for having a service area in Jefferson Park as a means of marketing and beautifying the business district. Arena has said that an existing service area at the Six Corners has played a key role in helping to revitalize that area.
However, chamber president George Karzas and chamber board chairman Lionel Rabb both testified against the proposal. They said that timing is bad for the service area given the large property tax increase approved last month by the City Council and that it would make more sense to have a service area with smaller boundaries. They said that a smaller area would allow for fewer residential properties and allow the service area to concentrate around the core business area at Milwaukee and Lawrence avenues.
The time the chamber decided to move forward with a service area, it was not clear that a large property tax increase for the entire city was in the works, Rabb said. The service area tax would be collected on property tax bills and would include 501 residential properties and about 230 commercial and mixed-use properties primarily along Lawrence Avenue and Milwaukee Avenue.
The city Department of Planning and Development requires that the service area’s applicant, the Jefferson Park Chamber of Commerce, submit a support petition with the signatures of at least 20 percent of the affected property owners. The department approved 148 of the signatures submitted by the chamber, as 146 signatures were required under city policy, according to documents that the city released to Ernst. The creation of service areas are authorized under state law, which does not include the 20 percent requirement that the city mandates.
Ernst has charged that some of the signatures appear to be forged and that in some instances the city used names from a sign-in list at a community meeting on the issue and wrongly counted those names as supporters. Many of the alleged incorrect signatures were from a condominium building at 4572 N. Milwaukee Ave., according to Ernst.
In an affidavit submitted to the committee, the owner of five commercial properties in the 4400 block of Milwaukee Avenue said that she never signed the petition, but the city counted her name for each of her properties as supporting the proposal, according to Ernst. The department claims that the owner submitted support for the service area electronically, he said.
The name of Kevin Long appears twice on the petitions, once for his condominium and once for a parking space at the condominium complex on Milwaukee, but the signatures clearly are not the same, and it is very doubtful that Long every signed the petitions given that he has been "incarcerated for several years," Ernst said. At times Long has lived in the building.
Also at the hearing, Pat Coyle testified that he owns several residential buildings in the proposed service area and that he supports the proposal because his tenants are looking to have more stores and restaurants that they can walk to. He said that the service area can be a useful tool in bringing more businesses to the area.
The chamber collected signatures from a variety of sources, including volunteers, and an online support petition was available. The department did eliminate about a half-dozen of the signatures submitted by the chamber, but the department has ruled that the chamber met the minimum signature requirements.
Dr. Victor Forys, whose medical office would be in the service area, said that based on the proposed 2016 budget for the service area, he would pay about $13,000 over 10 years to the service area and that he would rather use that money to make his own marketing decisions and to pay for his own property maintenance. He said that snow must be removed in front of his office in a timely manner so that patients can get to his building and that he cannot rely on a service area to clear the snow.
Service areas can use its funds to pay for snow removal, landscaping and marketing initiatives.
The life of the service area would be for 10 years, but it can be renewed after that time. It is projected that the average commercial owner would have to pay about $1,100 next year to the service area and that the average residential owner would pay about $172 next year.
Editor’s note: Publisher Brian Nadig is a member of the chamber’s executive board.