Let it be

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By Nona Tepper

If you haven't heard, the Forest Park Review is fact-checking every campaign flier this election season, in an effort to inform voters. Keep in touch: ntepper@wjinc.com or jill@oakpark.com

Flier Name: "Let it be"

Specs: 8 ½ x 11, glossy, two-sided

Submitted to the Forest Park Review: September 25

The first side of the flier features a beautiful bouquet of black-eyed susans sprouting along Madison Street, and offers a single claim:

1)     "Unanimous Statement of Support from The Forest Park Chamber of Commerce & Development Board of Directors… 'After nearly two years…we have not seen or heard of any negative impact on area businesses that can be attributed to video gaming. The revenue to the Village from video gaming has helped prevent the potential loss of services to businesses and residents.

Based on this business climate, the Chamber of Commerce & Development is in favor of maintaining video gaming as it has been implemented in Forest Park.'" TRUE

This statement was published in a Letter to the Editor in the Review on Aug. 28.

In an interview with the Review, Laurie Kokenes, executive director of the Forest Park Chamber of Commerce, said the group's Board of Directors voted unanimously to support legalized video gaming as-is in Forest Park at a meeting on Aug. 8. The Chamber is a business networking and advocacy organization.

"We worked very carefully to word this and state our reasons for supporting it," Kokenes said, adding: "After much discussion about our position, we decided to write a Letter to the Editor to state our position."

Officers of the Chamber Board are as follows:

President Dorothy Gillian, of Weichert Realtors, Nickel Group;

First Vice President Rob McAdam, of McAdam Landscaping;

Second Vice President Fred Bryant, of Accents by Fred;

Treasurer Erik Fjeldstad, of Forest Park National Bank;

Past President Joel Foster, of Kingsview Asset Management.

Members of the Chamber Board are as follows: Augie Alesky, of Centuries & Sleuths Bookstore; Noel Eberline, of Yearbook Studios; Tom Holmes, of the Forest Park Review; Mark Hosty, of Healy's Westside/ Weichert Realtors, Nickel Group; David King, of David King & Associates; Bridget Lane, of Business Districts Inc.; Stephanie Neubauer, of MacDaddy Salon; Larry Piekarz, of the Park District of Forest Park; Amy Rita, of the Forest Park Post; Jack Vainisi, of Forest Park National Bank; and Martin Sorice, of Angelo O'Leary's, Blueberry Hill, Carole's, Circle Inn, Doc Ryan's, Pioneer Tap and Shortstop Lounge.

It is unclear if the entire Chamber Board was present for the vote on video gaming, and if all of the members of the Chamber were polled on their position on video gaming.

The second side of the flier features three of the village's lovely single and multi-unit homes and offers a few claims:

 1)     a) "Property Values Up" MOSTLY TRUE

Single-family homes in Forest Park were selling for an average of $355,276 in July, up nearly 11 percent year over year, according to Midwest Real Estate Data LLC. Condos and townhomes in Forest Park were selling for an average of $181,037 in July, down about 6 percent from July 2017. Local condos and townhomes were spending an average of 11 days on the market in July, about half the time they spent on the market during the same period last year.

     b) "In 2017, the first full year of video gaming, Forest Park home resale prices jumped 10.4%-- a higher increase than Oak Park, River Forest, and Riverside who do not have video gaming." The flier cites an article by Crain's Chicago Business. TRUE, BUT…

The Crain's article does state that Forest Park's average home sales price increased 10.4 percent year over year. This is more than the home resale price in Oak Park (-2.3 percent), River Forest (9.3 percent) and Riverside (-5.6 percent).

In an interview with the Review, John Lawrence, founder of the Oak Park-based Weichert Realtors Nickel Group and president of the Oak Park Area Association of Realtors, credited new construction and high property taxes in neighboring towns to driving up the local sales price. Weichert sells homes in Forest Park and other western suburbs of Chicago.

"There's people who like what the housing options are over there," Lawrence said. "There's a lot of investment going on in Forest Park, there's been some really nice, new construction homes built. There are people who are choosing to go to Forest Park to avoid some of the tax burdens in Oak Park, so you can get a really nice, new construction home for less and the taxes are going to be less."

2)     a) "Positive Impact On Our Economy" NO COMMENT

How do you define "positive impact?" How do you define "economy?" This statement is not detailed enough for the Review to fact-check.

      b) "The Forest Park Chamber of Commerce in their endorsement of keeping video gaming legal stated 'We have seen increased revenue to local establishments, including many have long been a part of Forest Park.'" TRUE

This statement was published in a Letter to the Editor in the Review on Aug. 28.

3)     a) "Generates Needed Revenue" TRUE

"All new revenue received by the village is welcome and indeed needed," Mayor Anthony Calderone said in an email to the Review. "The village is still recovering from sluggish retail sales taxes over the last several years, as a consequence all new sources of revenue are needed."

Village Administrator Tim Gillian said "of course" video gaming generates needed revenue for the village.

"With the knowledge that we have projected a deficit in this year's budget the [video gaming] revenue helps considerably to fill that hole," he said in an email to the Review.

The village faces a $1.9 million budget shortfall in fiscal year 2019, with revenue budgeted at $19,673,215 and expenses projected at $21,575,469, according to the village. The village's fiscal year runs from May 1 to April 30.

b) "Video gaming has brought in nearly $300,000 to Forest Park; decreasing reliance on property taxes and paying for police officers, firefighters and programs like sidewalk snow plowing." TRUE, BUT…

As of Sept. 17, the total amount the village has made so far from video gaming is $287,097, according to data provided by the village of Forest Park, which includes all license fees, permits, and the village's share of the terminal income.

In fiscal year 2019, which runs from May 1, 2018 to April 30, 2019, the village has so far earned $104,035 from video gaming. In fiscal year 2018, which ran from May 1, 2017 to April 30, 2018, the village earned $165,141 from video gaming. In fiscal year 2017, which ran from May 1, 2016 to April 30, 2017, the village earned $17,921 from video gaming.

As for how the village uses the money, video gaming revenue is added to the village's General Fund, the primary fund in the village that funds "basic services," according to the 2017 auditors' report.

SENT BY: Let Forest Park Grow-Vote No, which is a ballot initiative committee established Aug. 22 with the aim of supporting licensed video gaming in the village.

James Watts, owner of O'Sullivan's Public House and the bar owner who brought the local battle over video gaming to the state Supreme Court, is listed as its chairperson. Let Forest Park Grow's headquarters is listed as 545 Beloit Ave., a residential property Watts owns, according to property records.

As of the most recent committee earnings report filed on Aug. 22, Let Forest Park Grow had $35,200 in its bank account.

CONTACT: ntepper@wjinc.com

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