Sometime in the next three months the village council will have the opportunity to do something that comes very rarely. This is rarer than Haley’s Comet and more rare than snow in June, but not quite as rare as a Cubs’ World Series championship. They have the opportunity to improve the business image and the health of the workers of Forest Park by doing . . . absolutely nothing.
As reported in the Forest Park Review last week, a restrictive ban on smoking in public establishments will take affect in every municipality within the Cook County borders unless each enacts their own smoking legislation.
I’ve written about the smoking issue in the past (I favor a ban), and all the evidence suggests communities that have passed such ordinances have not been harmed. For our village council to do nothing and let this important ordinance take affect is such a no-brainer that it can only mean they will end up taking some action.
You see, no elected official wants to be seen as doing nothing on any issue, so there’s no doubt that the council will vote to alter, dilute, or somehow change the county ordinance. This issue is yet another illustration of our council’s struggle to decide who it serves: the people of Forest Park, or the businesses of Forest Park.
To be fair, there are those who suggest what’s good for business in Forest Park is good for the people of Forest Park, and I agree to a point. But the question I have is how do you go about proving that?
The recent controversy over eminent domain and parking seems to pit residents, particularly those along the Madison Street corridor, against the businesses along Madison Street. So, if the parking plan as drawn is implemented, how much will the businesses of Forest Park benefit? And how much of that benefit trickles down to the residents of Forest Park in the form of increased sales tax revenue? It seems that before anyone can make a decision on the parking issues, those questions need to be answered.
Similarly, most of the bars and restaurants in town will state that the county ordinance will cost them business, and result in reduced sales tax revenue for the village. When deciding on which direction to move, the village council needs some idea as to how much business, if any, will go up in smoke because of a ban.
As a CPA I am used to pouring through data and making decisions based on that data. One of the things missing from these debates is empirical evidence. I would like to hear from the business community how much their business will increase if the properties within the cross hairs of the parking plan are demolished. I would also like to hear from the businesses that think they will suffer a sales slump if a smoking ban is enacted, exactly how much their business will suffer. I would like to see that data and the assumptions used to support that data debated at the council level. On both the parking and smoking issues, I would like to see a bottom-line number.
It’s only with this data, and input from residents that the village council can make responsible decisions. And it’s only with this data that the voters can decide for themselves the balance of business versus private interest with which they feel comfortable, and then elect, in April, the candidates who share those interests.