A legislative proposal in Springfield that would give Forest Park the ability to raise taxes for the purpose of weathering the recession is not a key component of local municipal budget projections, but officials here aren’t dismissing the notion either.
Sen. Don Harmon, an Oak Park Democrat, introduced a bill in early February asking that non-home rule communities, such as Forest Park, be allowed to collect additional sales tax revenue and apply that money to their general operating budgets. Currently, non-home rule towns can impose up to a 1 percent sales tax, and that money must be used for infrastructure improvements, or property tax relief, according to state law.
Harmon’s proposal would require any new sales tax to be approved by referendum. Furthermore, any tax increases would expire at the end of 2015.
Forest Park collects a .5 percent sales tax, which is used for its infrastructure program, the Village Improvement Plan.
Tim Gillian, village administrator, said local officials are obviously aware of the proposal, but it hasn’t been a hot topic. Ongoing discussions at village hall of how to avoid taking on new debt as a result of the slumping economy have not included tax increases.
“I didn’t have any elected officials run into my office and say, ‘Wow, I really hope they pass this,'” Gillian said.
Economic indicators suggest that 2010 will be at least as difficult as 2009, and Forest Park managed to avoid a year-end deficit that year. If circumstances remain largely unchanged, said Gillian, “we should be able to muddle through again” without raising taxes.
But the potential to capture new revenue is “absolutely attractive,” according to Mayor Anthony Calderone, and he said it would be a mistake to dismiss out of hand a possible tax increase.
“I don’t like to close doors. I think it would be inappropriate to unilaterally say no” to a possible increase, Calderone said.
Calderone did not say that he would push for a tax increase if Harmon’s legislation is approved, and in fact echoed Gillian’s comment that the village can probably make do without it.
Commissioner Rory Hoskins said Forest Park has done a decent job of cutting its expenses, and is also fairly confident that the recession won’t inflict lasting harm on the village’s ledgers. Hoskins oversees the finance department. As for the possibility of a referendum to cover general operating expenses, the commissioner said voters aren’t likely to support such a measure.
“It does seem like a fairly tough sell,” Hoskins said.
The park district in February won residents’ approval for a property tax increase but, according to Hoskins, there’s a more tangible outcome tied to that measure, which makes it easier for voters to get behind. That money is slated for the purchase and rehabilitation of a dilapidated 2.5-acre property on Harrison.
The village’s .5 percent sales tax has brought in an estimated $1 million annually during non-recession years, according to municipal audits. Forest Park also receives 1 percent of the sales tax revenue collected annually by the state.