Digging out of Forest Park's financial hole

Opinion: Letters to the editor

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Election season often sees a lot of word and phrases used without delving into specifics. I want to change that by talking about our finances and economic development for a bit.

To be honest, Forest Park is not in great fiscal health, operating on 1.5+ million-dollar shortfall is a concern. I feel we can make up over a third of that shortfall with several relatively simple steps and then really focus on growing our economy. First, we need to collect our debts. A village can't operate without a collection agency as we currently do, and that needs to be rectified immediately. Without a collection agency, not only do we miss the first attempt to collect that debt—we miss the last step as well, which is the state collecting it in income tax returns. Second, we need to aggressively pursue the Hines VA fire protection contract. For years, Forest Park had a yearly agreement (but not a long-term contract) to provide these services to the tune of 400k a year. Broadview, in a crafty move, undercut us and now provides the service. We need to get this contract back as soon as possible. As a village, we need to team with our neighbors in the WCMC (West Central Municipal Conference) and IML (Illinois Municipal League) to fight Springfield for the share of the 'local share tax' we're owed. This changed under Governor Rauner, and we need to make sure it is returned to the right level (if we are currently still operating under Rauner's last budget). 

As for investing in Forest Park, we need a mayor that is 'all in'. That means working with property owners, recruiting new business, and being the number-one cheerleader for Forest Park. We need to market our town aggressively, since doing so would mean relief for homeowners who, in all honesty, pay far too much in property taxes. I recently met with the owner/manager of the Forest Park mall. We had a great meeting that ended with mutual agreement on some easy steps; rethinking what could fit in the now empty HOBO space (family entertainment, subdividing, etc.) and immediately working on developing the out lots for the two spots that are available for a host of chain and independent businesses and helping bolster the existing Portillo's and Taco Bell. Getting Roosevelt to phase 2 is an absolute priority.

The Madison, Harlem and Harrison Street business districts are a different animal. The lion's share of our tax revenue comes from business on Roosevelt, but the charm of Forest Park lies in our walkable retro stretch. Suffering from empty storefronts and a need to reimagine, we need to help bring not only business, but patrons to Madison Street and our other corridors. I have proposed developing the front portion of the Altenheim property into a boutique hotel with a meeting/conference space. This would bring not only property tax revenue but also sales tax revenue and just as important—patrons who need to eat, drink and shop, creating a complete engine that fuels our town with multiple revenue streams. Thanks for taking the time to read this. You can find more information at www.ChrisHarris4ForestPark.com. 

Chris Harris

Mayoral candidate / former Commissioner

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