The recent rapid and rabid responses by the local business community to concerns about downtown parking were quite shameless in their excoriation of the brand spanking new village board. Names have been called, epithets thrown, dire predictions flung, all in an effort to convince us that the new board must pay attention to their needs now or something bad will happen.
One letter was signed by several business leaders, some of whom have been the beneficiaries of our community’s largesse. There are really two issues at work here in our business community: 1) the North Boulevard parking garage as an infrastructure need and 2) direct cash subsidies to developers and retailers.
These letters miss the mark because the problems of downtown parking were sown by the incredibly business-friendly Trapani administration. On the backburner, behind closed doors, without public notice or input, the business community were led to believe that the problems they recognized in the lack of parking at the Whiteco development were all going to go away with another new huge parking garage on North Boulevard. At the very same time, the Trapani administration, was selling us citizens on plenty of parking in the Whiteco project.
Now no one had voted on the North Boulevard garage idea; no hearings were held. It was just, well, an assumed deal. You support Whiteco, we’ll give you a new garage. Now a new administration is reassessing these proposals with a critical eye and the downtown people are none too happy about it. Just what is it that we need to reassess?
For at least the the past eight years the VMA and business mantra has been that we need density and retail growth to fund us out of the real estate tax spiral we find ourselves in. This idea is ancient bunk. It lies on the dust heap of failed concepts, and we as citizens have the tax bills to prove it.
Here is the math for landlocked suburbs such as ours: Let’s just say that we want to fund only our village government’s $100 million budget with the income generated from retail sales. Since we as a village only receive 1 percent of the 8.75 percent of sales tax collected locally we would need $10 billion dollars in annual retail sales in our community to pay just our village hall expenses. That’s not going to happen in 10 years of growth, and it may not happen in 100 years of growth.
Giving Seymour Taxman, Willis Johnson or Whiteco our money to enrich their personal fortunes will never increase our tax base enough to ever recoup the investment. Heck, the Ben and Jerry’s on Lake Street will have to do $4 million in ice cream sales before we see a profit on the $40,000 we gave them. Now as a fellow retailer, I hope they do those numbers their first year in business. However my 33 years of retail experience finds it unlikely.
That’s just the sales tax portion of revenue. The next argument is the real estate tax revenue increases. We have had at least six years of solid condo and retail development growth, and we have had nothing but huge increases in our real estate taxes. To find out why our taxes haven’t gone down, we can look at the microcosm of village hall.
In reality, our village hall is one large service center. Think of it as the concierge desk at Nordstrom’s or the Peninsula Hotel. The more people who request services, the more staff they need to add to answer questions and direct people to the spa. As a village, you cannot fund your way to financial independence with more people wondering where the spa is and why there isn’t enough parking when they get there. It is a mathematical impossibility. More people bring more costs, which raise taxes.
So, what to do. I think we have a pretty great community here that is well worth investing in if you are a retailer?#34;or a developer?#34;without any additional cash subsidy from us. Seymour Taxman, Willis Johnson and Whiteco have way more money than most of us do, so I’d like to invite them to do business here the old-fashioned way: with their cash, following our community guidelines. Hundreds of Oak Park retailers are doing this every day. Why can’t they?
And the new garage? If Whiteco is not built, it may not be needed. However, if the new board determines it is needed, there are private, for-profit, parking garages built every day.
Even Whiteco built their own for their apartment tower in Houston.