Jeff Park taxing plan once again moving forward
by BRIAN NADIG
A proposal to create a taxing body to help market and beautify the Jefferson Park commercial area is proceeding after an Aug. 13 vote by the local chamber to halt the application process was declared invalid.
In June the board of directors for the Jefferson Park Chamber of Commerce approved moving forward with its application to become the city’s 54th special service area, where a local of commission of property owners would set an annual property tax levy to fund improvements in the business district. Service areas operate in the Six Corners, Sauganash and Belmont-Central shopping districts.
The board also approved in June a second motion which called for the chamber to work with the city to remove the 501 residential properties which would be taxed. Most of the service area’s proposed $220,000 budget for 2016 would be funded through tax revenue collected from the 200 commercial and mix-used properties located within the service area’s boundaries, but city policy requires that service area boundaries to be contiguous and does not allow any property that falls within the affected area to be removed.
However, last month the chamber voted to halt the application process over concerns that the service area would include too many residential properties and that many of the affected home owners were not aware of the chamber’s proposal to create a new property tax. Property owners would pay the tax as part of their bi-annual property tax bill which they receive from the county.
At a Sept. 10 special meeting of the chamber’s board, it was reported that the Law Project, a nonprofit group which assisted in writing the chamber’s bylaws, declared that the Aug. 13 vote was not proper because a motion to reconsider a previous vote can only be made up to 24 hours after the original vote, which occurred two months earlier. Four board members who objected to the Aug. 13 vote called for the special meeting.
No votes were taken at the special meeting, but no objections to the Law Project’s ruling were raised. The board does not have another meeting on the service area scheduled, but the Law Project indicated that a vote to reconsider a prior decision is not the only type of motion which could be made to halt a previous action, according to chamber officials.
“It’s a verbiage issue,” said chamber president Lionel Rabb, who has called for the service area implementation to be delayed.
The service area would be located primarily along Milwaukee Avenue between Montrose Avenue and the Kennedy Expressway and along Lawrence Avenue between the expressway and Austin Avenue. The average tax for a commercial owner would be about $1,100 a year and for a residential property owner about $170 under the proposed 2016 budget, which can vary each year.
It is not unusual for the “vast majority” of a service area to consist of residential properties, with one service area in the Loop being 95-percent residential, said Noah Gordon of PLACE Consulting, which the chamber hired to assist with its application.
City officials have told the chamber that there are no plans to allow any residential properties in the affected area to be exempted. In comparison, Evanston has a policy that allows condominiums located above storefronts to be exempted but requires ground-floor residential uses to be included.
Lawrence Avenue resident Paula Stecker told the chamber board that it is not fair that she would have to pay the tax given that most home owners in Jefferson Park would not. She that unlike in the Loop where “everybody lives above” a commercial street, most Jefferson park residents do not live on Lawrence or Milwaukee.
Another resident said that the service area would be forcing him to pay for “the prosperity” of the business owners.
In addition, concerns were raised at the meeting that the service area tax would take effect at the same time that the city is looking to implement garbage collection fees and a significant property tax increase to a cover budget shortfall.
Some chamber members said that residents should take responsibility for their neighborhood and share in the burden of improving the area and that the service area would improve the commercial district for both the merchants and the home owners. The chamber has looked into using some of the funds for business recruitment, sidewalk cleaning and maintenance of public art.
“Why should I take full responsibility of this neighborhood? I’ve done enough,” board member Shanna Karamaniolas said.
“I understand that we don’t want to pay more taxes, but we need to improve the look of the neighborhood,” said board member Dobra Bielinski.
Alderman John Arena (45th) said that he has received little opposition to the proposed service area and that an ordinance authorizing it will be introduced this month in City Council. Arena has said that some of the tax funds could be used to market Jefferson Park to leasing agents in an effort to attract more businesses to the area.
“My recommendation is we have a need here, and we keep it (the process) going,” Arena said.
Arena said that input from a public hearing that will be held this fall on the chamber’s application will be considered. “We can hold this in committee,” he said.
Editor’s note: Brian Nadig is an officer of the chamber.