River Forest residents will get to vote for their wallets’ weight this November, as the village board decided Monday night to put a 1 percent sales tax hike referendum on the ballot.
If approved, the bump would bring River Forest’s sales tax up to 9.5 percent, the same rate as Oak Park and Elmwood Park. The rate would still be a notch below Chicago’s 9.75 percent.
It’s a move that several trustees said would help close next year’s massive projected budget hole.
“Let’s cut to the chase: If we don’t do this, we’re going to have a $600,000 to $900,000 deficit,” Trustee Jim Winikates said.
A July memo from Village Administrator Steve Gutierrez predicted the 1 percent sales tax could bring in $687,000 each year. The tax would not apply to unprepared food, over the counter or prescription drugs.
Dan Lauber, a former member of the village’s Citizen Advisory Committee on Finances, lauded the referendum as a necessary step to get the village back on the road towards solvency, if not a panacea.
“We have to be prepared for the worst case scenario, because it you can’t, you end up in the scenario the city of Chicago is in,” Lauber said. “I don’t pretend that this sales tax will solve all our problems.”
But Trustee Steve Hoke questioned the practicality of adding the sales tax just before bargain-basement store Costco is set to move in next door in Melrose Park, a move that could suck the wind out of River Forest’s biggest sales tax generators – its grocery stores.
“We ought to be really concerned about the impact that Costco is going to have on Jewel or Dominick’s, and raising sales taxes right in front of that doesn’t seem to be a great idea,” Hoke said.
However, in the end, the board voted 4-2 to put the referendum on the ballot Nov. 2, with Hoke and fellow minority trustee Steve Dudek voting no.
That decision, Lauber said before the vote, would give River Foresters the chance to decide on the tax, rather than leaving it with the board.
“I urge you to give us the opportunity to have an open and fact-based debate,” he said. “If opponents are so confident that they are right, then they have no reason to fear this. They can argue it with facts.”