Park Forest, IL–(ENEWSPF)– Village board members began a discussion at the Tuesday, January 2 board meeting, on a proposed contract for a Strategic Planning Study. Director of Planning and Economic Development Hildy Kingma reported to the board in a memo dated December 20, "The Plan Commission has been working for a couple of years to develop a scope of work and identify a planning consultant to conduct a planning study for the community. The initial effort,which included a request for proposals issued in November 2004, resulted in proposals that exceeded the funds budgeted for the project. Therefore, in early 2005 the Plan Commission began the process of revising the scope of work for the study and applied for a grant from the Illinois Department of Economic Opportunity. A $40,000 grant was awarded from ILDCEO (Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity) to supplement the Village funds already allocated to the project."
Kingma indicated that the intent of the study was to ensure "that the Village is taking the best economic advantage of the land resources that we have, and is positioned to participate inthe growth that is occurring throughout the Chicago Southland." The final scope of the work includes the following key study areas:
- Downtown Gateway – including the 3.5 acres currently for sale and property along Western Avenue that is currently part of the Thorncreek Apartments
- Western Avenue Annexation Area – to develop a strategy for annexation of the area tothe south of the Village’s current limits
- Park Forest Business Park
- The Eastgate Neighborhood
- Sauk Trail – west gateway into the Village of Park Forest
- Sauk Trail – east gateway into the Village of Park Forest
- Sauk Trail – in the vicinity of Rich East High School
- Norwood Square Shopping Center
- Residential Infill and Redevelopment
She also noted that there would be several means by which public input would be sought throughout the planing process. "The consultant will work closely with a Steering Committee to review documents and provide detailed feedback on conceptual plans and implementation strategies.The Steering Committee is proposed to be made up of the Plan Commission, key staff members,and other community representatives. In addition, the consultant and Steering Committee will conduct two Community Workshops designed to obtain public input on the preparation of preliminary development scenarios and on the more refined development scenarios and implementation plans. Finally, the Plan Commission will conduct a formal public hearing on the complete draft Strategic Plan prior to making a recommendation and forwarding the Plan to the Board of Trustees."
Resident Has Concerns
During public comments, Park Forest resident Richard Schilf raised questions about the proposed study,
“I was interested in talking about the study, and the fact that the study encompasses one of the highest tax areas in Cook County. Going in, you’re going to be looking for economic development in the second highest, next to Ford Heights, highest tax district in Cook County. Now, it seems to me, that this in itself is going to preclude people from wanting to invest. And this should be clear to anyone here, that businesses are not going to be attracted to a high tax area. And so I would question the whole idea of why you’re even attempting the study without first looking at decreasing the tax rate. And, as a matter of fact, there is a very, very specific way to decrease this tax rate. We can increase the EVA in school district 163 if the village would press for the PTAB (Illinois Property Tax Appeal Board) review of their taxes. My estimate is that, if in fact they pay the same taxes as the Thorne Creek apartments, which, by the way, is one of the areas that you’re examining for economic developments, Thorne Creek Apartments average $1,920 per unit in paid taxes. Right next door, Area E, pays $595 average per unit.
“And, they’re also occupied by non-owners. You got renters in the apartments, and you have non-owners in the co-ops. They don’t own the co-op. They don’t own the buildings they live in. They have the same status. Yet, we know that the Cook County Board of Review has taken this view of them, which is just completely at odds with the state statutes on how properties should be assessed.
“So, that would be one way whereby you could actually, and by my estimate, the tax rate would go down. The current tax rate in 163 is 17.8%. If the co-ops were properly assessed, that tax rate would probably go down to about 12.8 – 5 point difference.
“The way we know that is all you gotta do is compare the 2003 rate, which was 17.8, to the 2004 rate, which was 19.8. A 2 point difference. That 2 point difference was because the co-ops paid an average tax, most of them in 163, paid $129 per unit. This year, they paid $605. That alone brought a 2 point difference in the tax rate in 163.”
Village Attorney Responds
Before the board adjourned for the evening, Village Attorney Mat Delort asked if he could respond to Mr. Schilf's comments, "“I seldom do this, and I don’t want to argue with the audience, but I think for the trustee’s sake we need to clarify something, historically. And it relates to the comments about the village should be more proactive, in fighting this, basically suing tax payers to get their assessments increased which would therefore decrease everyone else’s taxes.
"My law firm is probably the biggest school law firm in the state of Illinois. And because of that aspect, I know fully well, that throughout the state, school districts are the ones that front the bill and the expense and the legal manpower to fight assessment cases, because schools have a lot more at stake than do villages. In my firm, we have four attorneys in a separate department who are incredibly expert in representing governmental bodies in assessment cases. They are among the best in the state.
“Not a day goes by in my office that I don’t get email from one of them or from Manager Mick regarding some issue we are working on in Park Forest with respect to trying to secure legitimately appropriate assessments for commercial properties and residential properties in this village.
“I have been the village attorney for almost seven years now, and I can advise the board, particularly the newer trustees, in those seven years we have received a minimal level of cooperation and assistance from the school districts which are in this village on these assessment cases, which normally are the ones who front the bills, put up the money, put up the manpower, and do it. Instead, the village has been the one that has been doing all this on those cases. And I just wanted to clarify that point, particularly for the newer trustees, so they’re not misled by any comments that may have been made. Thank you.”