Downtown Oak Park, a marketing and promotions agency responsible for everything from OakToberfest to the Christmas decorations on Lake Street, could be dissolved if the village can verify signatures on a petition against it.

DTOP is funded by a special service area (SSA) tax district, bordered by Harlem and Forest avenues, Ontario Street and North Boulevard. The tax came up for renewal this year and to end it, 51 percent of both voters and property owners within the SSA had to submit a petition to the village clerk’s office.

The deadline was last Friday, and opponents of the tax believe they have enough signatures to end the SSA. If the village can verify the petitions, the tax will end Dec. 10. If not, the Oak Park board will vote to extend the SSA that day.

Reached Tuesday morning, Village Clerk Sandra Sokol declined to give any estimates of how many signatures are on the petition.

“This is too important for the community for there to be any kinds of guesstimates here,” she said. “I take these things seriously. I’m not interested in guessing for anybody’s side.”

If ended, funds would still be in place to keep DTOP going until early 2009. It’s also possible the organization could be reinstated in 2011, Village Attorney Ray Heise said.

DTOP’s tax rate is capped at 3 percent and has been at 1 percent for the past few years, Executive Director Pat Zubak said.

If extended, the SSA could end at any time, contrary to past reports. The village board reviews the agency’s services each year and decides if they’re still needed. The DTOP board also evaluates itself every five years and decides whether to continue the organization, Village President David Pope said.

Both sides of the debate showed up at Monday’s village board meeting to voice their opinions.

“If this objection petition is denied-I think it’s valid-then we have no choice but to file a lawsuit and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars, on both sides, of wasteful taxpayer money to have a judge tell us who is right,” said Anthony Shaker, downtown property owner and SSA opponent.

Bill Sullivan of 107 S. Marion St. said the organization didn’t reach out to property owners. He would like to see “unique” and “creative” alternative methods to funding DTOP explored.

“There are just so many great things that they’re doing to help create a strong and healthy downtown Oak Park,” said Eric Larson, Marion Street Cheese Market owner. “It impacts the entirety of the community.”

“It is worth every penny,” Lake Theater owner Willis Johnson said of his contribution to the SSA.

“I think it’d be pretty stupid to cut off one of the legs of the organization that’s built to maintain and support downtown Oak Park,” said John Eisner, owner of Pumpkin Moon.

“We’re on the verge of opening this beautiful brand new street, and I think, more than ever, we need Downtown Oak Park to re-brand us and to educate Oak Parkers and people from around that we’ve got this new great area,” said Adriana Kopecka, owner of The Rocking Horse Boutique.

“I firmly believe that our properties benefit from a vibrant downtown,” said Mike Fox, property owner and DTOP president.

CONTACT: mstempniak@wjinc.com

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