Property owners on Madison Street could be paying more in property taxes if the Forest Park Village Council supports a recommendation to create a special service area (SSA) in the business district.
The recommendation came in correspondence from a committee of the Forest Park Chamber of Commerce and Development to the village council that was discussed at the July 8 council meeting. Specifically, the committee requested that the village assist with conducting a feasibility study, including funding.
The 10-member Economic Development Committee of the chamber of commerce, which has been meeting since March, voted unanimously in June to pursue the SSA option to assist the chamber with marketing and event funding, according to Bridget Lane, co-chair.
Lane, who is director of Business Districts Inc., a firm that consults with villages on economic growth, previously worked for the village but no longer serves in a formal capacity. Dan Watts of Forest Park Bank is the other co-chair.
Although no specifics have been discussed, the SSA would include properties on both sides of Madison from Harlem Avenue on the east to the Canadian National Railroad tracks on the west, plus an area of Harlem north of Madison. In the correspondence to the village council, committee members said a preliminary search suggests the potential of 175 properties within the proposed SSA, based on property identification numbers. Residential condominiums would be excluded, they added in the correspondence.
An SSA is a property-taxing mechanism that can be used to fund a wide range of special or additional services and/or physical improvements in a defined area within a municipality or jurisdiction, according to officials at SB Friedman, a Chicago-based development advising firm. An SSA allows local governments to establish such areas without incurring debt or levying a tax to the entire municipality, they added.
"For the past few years, Madison Street property and business owners and the Forest Park Chamber of Commerce have struggled to find the funds needed to sustain the marketing and events that we feel should support this cherished business district," Lane and Watts said in the correspondence. "We have much appreciated the village marketing funds and the village public works and police staffs' efforts to make Madison Street marketing and events competitive with better funded nearby districts. We know that those districts have much larger budgets supported by SSAs to reliably fund events and marketing and we feel that it is time for Madison Street to do the same."
Lane estimated the cost of a feasibility study to be between $10,000 and $15,000.
"This is something that has been discussed for many years," she said. "The Madison Street property owners want it."
She said other Chicago-area municipalities with SSAs include Evanston, Highland Park, Hinsdale, Highland Park and Wheaton, noting that some municipalities have multiple SSAs.
With a target of $50,000 across all properties, which she called a "reasonable amount," Lane said the average property contribution would be $286 annually. She said language creating the SSA would include a sunset clause with renewal required after five years.
"That would give us a way to try it," Lane noted.
In the correspondence, Lane and Watts said the village would receive the funds and could designate a chamber committee composed of both property owners and business owners within the SSA to guide their expenditure.
In response to concerns expressed by commissioners Joe Byrnes and Dan Novak regarding sufficient representation of Madison Street property owners among those supporting the recommendation, Lane said it "represents the unanimous vote of the committee," which she noted comprises most of the Madison Street business representatives.
"We definitely want to look at it," Mayor Rory Hoskins said, noting that the issue was discussed at a meeting he attended in April.
"Madison Street is the jewel of Forest Park and we do want to support the chamber of commerce if they are willing to support taxes on themselves."
Hoskins said he does not know when the issue will be brought back to the village council, adding that village officials will need to know more specifics, including funding costs and the number of hours of staff time that will be required.
"We'll find a resolution that works for all of us," he added.
Village Administrator Tim Gillian said the village annually budgets a $25,000 contribution to the chamber.
At the July 8 meeting, Laurie Kokenes, chamber director, acknowledged that annual contribution, thanked village officials for their support and asked that the contribution be included in the FY2019 budget, which has yet to be finalized.
Gillian and Kokenes also are voting members of the committee, in addition to David King of David King and Associates; Art Sundry, caffe DeLuca; Melody Winston, Forest Park Plaza/Living Word; Jacob DeHart, the Heritage; Mark Hosty, Healy's Westside/BHHS Koenig Rubloff Realty Group; Neil Rembos, Crystal Carwash; Jane Ertel, Team Blonde; and Dan Browne, Forest Agency. Another chamber representative is Dorothy Gillian, chamber president, and other village representatives are Steve Glinke, Building Department director, and Courtney Kashina, village planner/consultant.
In their correspondence, Lane and Watts outlined the steps to be taken in the feasibility study, which include developing a list of properties to be included; establishing an SSA governance and management plan that relies on a chamber sub-committee composed of property owners and businesses operating in the SSA; developing a statement for proposed SSA services; proposing a budget for services; and convening one public meeting to present findings.