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Uptown Community Leaders Considering Local Tax District Expansion

  A Special Service Area could be expanded to boost business but could increase property taxes for locals.
Uptown Community Leaders Considering Local Tax District Expansion
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UPTOWN — The economic development organization Uptown United is considering expanding a local tax district and has the Buena Park community in the southeast end of the neighborhood in its sights.

Special Service Areas are localized tax districts that collect tax dollars from property owners to provide commercial districts with enhanced city services such as snow plowing, street cleaning, security cameras, marketing, street beautification and more.

Each SSA in the city has to reconstitute itself once every decade, which is a chance to re-examine SSA boundaries and determine how things could be run better, said Uptown United President Alyssa Berman-Cutler, whose organization administers SSA No. 34 in Uptown.

"We're looking at areas we haven't covered in the past that are on our commercial corridors, and especially over in Buena Park, one of the areas we really see as a gateway to the community but are not able to provide the SSA services to," Berman-Cutler said.

SSA No. 34 includes major commercial corridors in Uptown; Broadway from Foster Avenue to Irving Park Road, Sheridan Road from Montrose Avenue to Foster Avenue, as well as parts of Argyle Street, Lawrence Avenue, Leland Avenue  and Wilson Avenue. It's already in Buena Park, but only on Broadway between Montrose Avenue and Irving Park Road.

Uptown United is proposing applying the SSA to Sheridan Road between Montrose Avenue and Irving Park Road, and the Buena Park Neighbors Association is meeting Monday to discuss the expansion. There are about 10 businesses on the stretch, including local staple the Holiday Club, a bar at 4000 N. Sheridan Road. 

Syed Ahmed, co-owner of Roots Smoke Shop at 4006 N. Sheridan Road, said the SSA expansion could benefit local businesses. 

"I think it will bring more attention to the area," said Ahmed, whose shop sits across from the Howard Brown Health Clinic. "It can't hurt." 

But it could mean a slightly higher property tax bill for folks in the area.

Property owners in SSA No. 34 pay an additional tax (a quarter of 1 percent) levied on the equalized assessed valuation of their property. 

Buena Park Neighbors President William Petty said "It's not a large tax," but some neighbors might object to paying it.

"We're in an environment today where people feel like they're taxed enough, and they might say, 'I don't want to be taxed more,'" said Petty. "But we want to give people a chance to say what they have to say."

Monday's meeting is being held so Uptown United can explain the expansion to residents and gather their opinions. The renewed SSA eventually has to be reconstituted via city ordinance. And before that happens, the City Council Committee on Finance still has to convene a public hearing where people can testify for or against the expanded SSA. 

Opponents of the district have 60 days after that meeting to submit a petition to the city or county with signatures from at least 51 percent of property owners in the proposed SSA boundaries and at least 51 percent of the area's registered voters. 

Berman-Cutler said that through the services provided by the SSA, the expansion should improve the quality of people's properties "and their experience of living in the neighborhood in general." 

"The balance is making sure that you are providing the level of services for the additional payments," she said. Referring to the property tax increase accompanied by an SSA, "It's not an undue burden, and it's not a huge amount of money, generally," she said.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has warned that Chicago could be forced to either drastically reduce city services or double its property tax rate if state lawmakers don't approve reforms that solve a pension problem that has left the city with a $29 billion pension debt for teachers, public safety employees and other city workers.