Forest Park Chamber of Commerce and Development is restarting its effort to create a special taxing district to support businesses along the village’s major commercial areas after the pandemic brought the process to a halt. 

The Special Service Area is a taxing district that, as the name suggests, adds an extra levy to the property tax bill of property owners within the designated area to fund support services, infrastructure improvements, land and building improvements and, in some cases, security. 

The proposed Forest Park SSA would include the properties on the portion of Madison Street between Harlem Avenue and the Canadian National freight railroad tracks, as well as the Forest Park side of Harlem Avenue between Madison Street and the village’s northern border at Circle Avenue. The chamber began the SSA feasibility study in 2019, launching the community outreach in early 2020, but the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic halted the process. 

According to Village Administrator Moses Amidei, the chamber missed the deadline to restart the process in 2021, so the process won’t begin until 2022. If the SSA is approved, it won’t start collecting revenue until 2023. However, the chamber is expected to give a presentation updating the village council on its plans sometime in September 2021. 

Under the Illinois Constitution, SSAs can be used to either augment the services the municipality already provides or pay for services a municipality doesn’t provide. According to a document put together by SB Friedman, a Chicago-based development consulting firm, it’s usually used to support commercial areas, financing street improvements, storefront improvements, advertising, private security and corridor redevelopment, among other things. 

In 2019, the chamber’s economic development committee told the village that the organization “struggled to find the funds needed to sustain the marketing and events that we feel should support this cherished business district.” An SSA would address that problem. At the time, the committee projected that based on the tax rate being proposed the area would generate around $50,000 annually, with an average of $286 coming annually from each property owner.

To establish an SSA, an applicant – in this case, the chamber – needs to do a study to define the exact boundaries, what kind of services it would provide, how much the services would cost and how long the taxing district would last. 

Since Forest Park can only establish an SSA within its own borders, the taxing district would include the buildings on the south side of Madison Street between the train tracks and Lathrop Avenue, then on both sides of the street between Lathrop and Harlem. It would also include the buildings along the west side of Harlem Avenue. For the most part, the SSA would include commercial buildings. While many of those buildings have condominiums on the upper floors, Amidei said that, since SSAs would be based on Property Index Numbers and condominiums have separate Property Index Numbers, the condominium portions wouldn’t be included. 

Once the study is completed, the village council would have to agree to propose an ordinance that would establish the SSA. The village would then hold at least one public hearing and give the residents and business owners at least 60 days to submit petitions opposing the ordinance. If that petition has the signatures of at least 51 percent of the registered voters and at least 51 percent of property owners within the proposed SSA area, the ordinance is defeated and the chamber wouldn’t be able to try again for at least two years.

If the SSA is established, the village council would need to approve the budget and the levy. It would also appoint a commission that would run the taxing district, drawing from residents and business owners. 

The village and the chamber held a meeting on Aug. 3 to see where the process stood.

“The chamber is going to be looking at going through the process – but that’s not until 2022,” Amidei said. “I would expect, in the early fall, in September, that the [chamber] would give a presentation to the village council to bring everyone up to speed on the SSA.”

Since a year has passed since the initial outreach and circumstances have changed, the chamber would be reaching out to the property owners within the proposed SSA again. 

Chamber director Laurie Kokenes told the Review that, since the plans haven’t changed and the process is only now resuming, she doesn’t have anything new to share at this time.