By Ben Meyerson
Local businesses and at least one village trustee are worried that the same River Forest residents who voted for a sales tax hike on Tuesday will be hesitant to take out their wallets when it hits next summer.
Voters passed a referendum in Nov. 2's election to bump up the village's sales tax 1 percentage point, boosting it from 8.5 percent to 9.5 percent.
The increase, which was approved 52.4 percent to 47.6 percent, would make River Forest's rate the same as Oak Park's and Elmwood Park's.
The tax won't affect most groceries or prescription drugs.
Keith Jackson, owner of Gunzo's Hockey Headquarters, 7706 Madison St., feared the tax hike might scare some of his customers away in the already-tight economy.
"I think any time you put an additional tax on something, that discourages consumers, especially in a time like this. We're kind of lucky that we have a specialized business," Jackson said.
Nevertheless, hockey equipment and jerseys can be expensive, and the tax increase might make it easier for customers to walk away from a local shop like Gunzo's and take their business online, Jackson said.
"That's always a consideration and obviously, the more advantage you give to them from a price standpoint, the bigger disadvantage we're at," he said. "I understand the village is having their own problems, but it's just a bad thing."
Tulipia Floral Design, 7617 Lake St., wasn't sure how the hike would affect business yet, but they weren't pleased with the boost.
"People are holding onto their money as it is," said a man who identified himself as the owner, but declined to give his name. "But with my business, I don't think it will affect it that much."
But Jim Winikates, a River Forest village trustee who was one of the strongest voices in favor of the tax increase, said it'll help the village avoid falling into a deep financial hole.
"I think what it says is that the residents like the services that they get, and they're willing to take a few bucks out of their pockets to make sure they keep getting them," he said in an interview Tuesday night after learning the results.
Winikates had previously said that without a new source of revenue, the village would be forced to cut down its already bare-bones staff.
Trustee Steve Hoke opposed the referendum, but wasn't shocked that it passed.
"I'm mildly surprised that it was even close, given the lack of any organized opposition," he wrote in a text message. "The old playbook works: Scare the voters with vague claims of service cuts, increase spending — in this case 9.3 percent — and delay the day of reckoning."
The village board now has to pass an ordinance to hike the tax rate, which is likely to happen, given previous support from board members before the referendum.
The rate will then go up July 1 of next year, as long as the village informs the state by Jan. 1.