“Well of course you are pro development because it puts more boots on the ground,” said my coffee date, responding to his own inquiry.  Because I represent local business, people assume I favor any development that adds shoppers. 

Businesses are not looking to urban planners to help generate sales.  Taxes by far is the most common concern.  Second is business climate. Sales is a distant third.  Yes, sales are critical to success. They depend on strong product, quality service, appealing prices, successful marketing and sufficient customer volume.  Unlike the first two concerns, business owners can impact sales with their own planning, resources and decisions.

The first two issues are outside the business person’s control.  Climate refers to whether the environment is friendly to commerce.  Culture, government, parking, safety, disposable income.  Businesses contribute to climate but mostly work within it. 

Taxes impact businesses and residents alike with the same powerful force.  They are a fixed cost, increasing annually with little recourse.  And businesses do not vote.

Oak Park’s taxes are among the highest in the county.  Not only are local taxes high, but they are higher for businesses.  In Cook County, businesses pay two and a half times the residential rate.  This is an incredible barrier to success for small local business.

According to the Civic Federation, the effective property tax rate for Oak Park businesses was 9.31% in 2015.  That compares to a residential rate of 2.92%.  The rates in Chicago were 4.18% for business and 1.56% for residential.  Evanston’s rates were 6.55% and 2.14% respectively.  In Oak Brook, both businesses and residential rates were 1.12%. Naperville was 2.56%. It is expensive to do business in Oak Park.

The community will debate the appropriateness of various development plans.  Local businesses are hoping for tax impact.  There are only three ways to decrease taxes: lower the cost of government services, increase fees or increase the pool of contributing property owners.  We like our services.  We do not like fees. 

Sure, development might help sales.  And if we cannot stabilize taxes, we will need more sales to offset the cost.  But, addressing taxes head-on? That’s the appeal of development.

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Cathy Yen

Cathy Yen is the Executive Director of the Oak Park River Forest Chamber of Commerce.  She has lived in Oak Park for 21 years and done business locally, first as a retailer and then as a small business...