Business owners discuss plans for Edgebrook SSA
by KEVIN GROSS
Merchants were concerned about a possible formation of a new special service area that would impose additional property taxes in Downtown Edgebrook to fund neighborhood improvement services and programs.
About 25 residents and business owners attended the second meeting on the proposed Edgebrook Special Service Area hosted by the Edgebrook-Sauganash Chamber of Commerce and representatives of the city Department of Planning and Development on Wednesday, April 18, at the Edgebrook Library, 5331 W. Devon Ave.
Special service areas are local taxing districts that fund services and programs through a tax levy on properties in the service area. The Edgebrook SSA would contain 124 properties within its boundaries. The proposed boundaries are roughly west of Spokane Avenue, east of Algonquin Avenue, north of Caldwell Avenue and south of Tahoma Avenue. No residentially zoned properties are in the proposed SSA, according to the chamber.
"Its not a tax that is imposed by City Hall, it’s a self imposed tax. I want to go on the record saying this is my idea, as an economic development person I thought this was something that was worth a try," chamber executive director Jennifer Herren said. "The way it’s constructed is if people are against it, it won’t go through. But if I don’t at least give it a shot, and I continue to see challenges that Edgebrook is faced with, then shame on me for not trying."
The SSA cannot be created without letters of support from at least 20 percent of property owners within the boundaries by Aug. 1.
Of the 124 properties in SSA, 96 are for commercial use, 16 are zoned for mixed-use, four are vacant, and eight are non-profit or tax-exempt, such as the Edgebrook Library. Some residents at the meeting were confused about how the SSA would affect their property taxes. Officials said that residents would be unaffected by the SSA.
The first year SSA budget would seek a $75,000 levy with the estimated initial tax rate on individual commercial properties at 0.555 percent, with a tax cap of 0.8 percent in the future.
During the first year, the tax would be $277 for properties with an equalized assessed valued of $50,000, $555 for properties with a $100,000 EAV, $1,387 for properties with a $250,000 EAV and $4,995 for properties with an $900,000 EAV.
"You’re not going to be taxed more if the property values go down to get to the (SSA’s total) $75,000, that’s where the cap comes in," chamber president Dennis Hammer said. "But if the property values go up you won’t be taxed at 0.555 percent, that (percent tax) will go down because the amount you get taxed is the same dollar amount."
SSA taxes would be levied when first and second installment of property taxes are issued. If approved, the earliest taxation could begin in the summer of 2019, according to Patrick Brutus, coordinator of economic development for the Department of Planning and Development.
The SSA budget proposal earmarks about $30,000 for public way aesthetics and $23,000 for customer attraction projects, and the rest set aside for $9,000 or less of spending in categories such as personnel, economic/business development or safety programs.
Herren said that priority SSA-funded services could include beautification through neighborhood wayfinding signs, holiday lighting or hanging plant baskets, planning special events such as a Christmas market, power-washing of sidewalks, new bike racks, or funding a facade rebate program for business owners, based upon an Edgebrook needs assessment conducted by an SSA Advisory Committee.
When a special service area is established, the city contracts with a local nonprofit organization to administer it. Commissioners appointed by the mayor oversee and recommend the annual services, budget and service provider agency. If approved, the special service area would be managed by the chamber.
At the meeting, attendees showed skepticism to the effectiveness of the proposed SSA services.
"Start those flower pots up," one attendee said. "I’ve been trying to keep my street from flooding for nearly 40 years, but now we’re going to have flower pots and bike racks. I appreciate it."
"Do you have any metrics to measure the effectiveness (of SSA programs)? Its great to have planters and decorations . . . but is it actually improving the businesses as far as revenue?" one business owner asked. "Local businesses that aren’t dependent on foot traffic, are they actually going to benefit from having a planter outside?"
Attendees were given surveys to explore what types of services they would prefer.
Attendees said that lack of parking is a major commercial obstacle and instead proposed SSA-funded parking lots, although parking is not allowed as an SSA-funded expense according to Mark Roschen, assistant commissioner of the Department of Planning and Development.
At the meeting, business owners expressed dissatisfaction with the SSA approval process, as landlords provide statements of approval rather than business operators directly impacted by SSA services. Herren and Hammer said that most local Edgebrook businesses and many chamber businesses rent their storefronts, and many business owners believed that their voices might be ignored in favor of landlords, few of whom attended the meeting.
"This survey doesn’t ask ‘Are you in favor of an SSA.’ It asks if you want snow removal," Jan Kupiec of the Edgebrook Community Association and Everyday Edgebrook said. "Is there going to be a question asked of the business owners, and possibly the residents, ‘Do you want the SSA?’"
Tim Pomaville, who owns property within the SSA, said that he refuses to support the taxing district.
"It seems 20 percent is such a low threshold, its not right. I know that the aldermen gave support for them to start this process. I really hope that if all they get is 20 percent they slam the door on this, because that is not the will of the community, that’s not the will of the owners," he said. Pomaville also questioned whether SSA commissioners could be trusted to prevent spikes to the maximum tax rate.
"The (SSA) commission would have to approve (a tax rate raise) at a public meeting, where the public can provide testimony and feedback to the commission," Roschen said. "Then before we are able to introduce any ordinance to a city council vote – and the SSA budget is an annual ordinance — we need both aldermen to sign that ordinance. If you make your voices heard to the aldermen, they can stop any action that the commission proposes."
Aldermen Margaret Laurino (39th) and Anthony Napolitano (41st) issued letters of support to look into the possible creation of the taxing district.