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Officials Respond: What the New 'Last Resort' Sales Tax Means for Oak Forest

Mayor Hank Kuspa and aldermen share their thoughts on why a 1 percent sales tax increase is needed, and what the money could mean for the city.

Shopping in Oak Forest got a bit more expensive Tuesday night, as the voted 5–0 in favor of a 1 percent home-rules sales tax increase. The increase will go into effect July 1 and will apply to tangible personal items, excluding nonprepared food, medicine and automobiles.

The tax was implemented to help the city recover from a $4.2 shortfall in income, sales and utility tax revenue over the past four years. Administrators previously reported the city has cut full-time staff by 12 percent and part-time by 50 percent, along with delaying the purchase of vehicles and equipment within the city. 

"This is the last resort, I think we all know," Julian said. "After three years, we have been battling declining revenues, increasing expenses … we have made every effort to live within the revenues that we have, to the point that we're no longer going to be able to sustain the current services that are provided."

The new tax could bring in $1.1 million, which officials say would enable the city to fill five full-time positions, with the remaining money earmarked for capital improvements.

The tax has been a hot button issue with residents in previous days, although alderwoman Laura Clemons said she spoke with several residents who were swayed in favor of the tax after learning what it could mean for the city.

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"I think it's just an education thing," she said. "So when I explain to a resident, 'When you're shopping in Country Club Hills at Walmart, you're contributing a point and a quarter to their roads, to their police, to their budgets, to their bottom lines,' and they're like 'Really?' I tell them yes.

"My hope is [people will shop in Oak Forest]," she continued. "Call it my community spirit or call it what you will, if a resident leaves our town and goes to shop in Tinley ... they're giving us nothing. It's going to have a detrimental effect in the long run."

Mayor Hank Kuspa spoke at length about the need for the tax.

Kuspa said that the tax was "extremely difficult," to pass and that without it, property taxes would have gone up 15 percent. The new tax, he said, is a better alternative.

"People from outside our community, who come to our stores, we have an opportunity to try to generate some revenue for the city and not only taxing our residents," Kuspa said. "Because property taxes only tax our residents. I just didn't want to go that route."

Although the tax will go into effect July 1, the city will not see the money until at least October of this year, according to City Treasurer Dwayne Fox.

Kuspa added that although more could be cut from the budget, he was unwilling to reduce public services any further. With four employees per 1,000 residents, the city currently operates at roughly 60 percent of the total of 50 neighboring municipalities, according to documents provided by Julian. 

"There's more to cut. Yes—there's more to cut, but at what expense," Kuspa said. "The aldermen and I have made a decision to not cut city services any more. ... We are not laying off anyone else, expect through attrition. Our work force is reducing. The council decided we are not reducing city services to the residents any more."

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Jim Peterman March 29, 2012 at 01:46 AM
They need the city vehicles to drive around running errands, taking the family to the restaurant, etc. I see it and know it happens and they will never give up what they have because we can't make them. There are always reasons to give us why they need these things like for on call emergency use, etc. When complaints get filed, they say it will be taken care of but what does that really mean??? This is not a democracy, it is a town run by an inner circle of buddies it seems. We are pacified with things that we enjoy like parades so we can learn to accept what we don't like.
Jim Peterman March 29, 2012 at 01:48 AM
The mayor is inept at bringing in substantial business to oak forest so the fallback on that is always raising the taxes. Just like when a new CEO is hired to run a company more efficiently and after a few years when he realizes he is incapable of it, they lay off workers to cut cost of operation. Just another bandaid yes.
Jim Peterman March 29, 2012 at 01:52 AM
They should reduce city services that simply drive around in city trucks wasting gas and paychecks. Yeah, the reason would be that they are doing some sort of essential job function and that would be the end of the discussion. They can do what they please and that is apparent.
Jim Peterman March 29, 2012 at 02:04 AM
The few stores I spend my money at in Oak Forest will be losing my business. There is really no big stores to shop at. FFL was nice when it replaced Dominicks but the quality of the store has diminished over the years. With all the raised taxes, why on earth would any new businesses even think of setting up shop. Yeah, great thinking fellas. No new business, less shoppers. You have my vote come election. Too bad that every year goes by and there is more of a mess to clean up for the next kings.
Mike Ziak March 29, 2012 at 03:34 AM
The quoted statements from both the elected an on-elected officials once again proves how clueless they really are. All of their talk is pure spin/damage control. Of course if I go to Walmart I'm going to pay tax for another town. You know why? Because we don't have a store like that in town and never will. If I need some hardware quick, I cant go to ACE anymore so I have to go out of town for that as well. There's only so many auto parts you can buy in town though. That threat of the 15% tax increase is bull. You know why? Because they would have had to put an increase like that on a referendum and whats the chances of it passing then? If you look at your tax bill, the city levy has gone up close to 15% in 3 years. Why 3 years? Because im pretty sure they can only raise the tax 4.99% a year before having to put it on a referendum. Dont be fooled by this bunch.
Concerned Citizen March 29, 2012 at 01:39 PM
I am extremely disappointed with the lack of communication regarding the proposed and recently passed sales tax. The recent referendum on electrical aggregation was communicated to us via the OF emergency phone system. I now notice on the OF website under News, the sales tax proposal was communicated on Friday, March 23rd, and passed on Tuesday March 27th. Not much time for us to contact our alderman with our thoughts. I sense the Mayor and council really knew this would be unpopular so waited until the last minute to announce this proposal. I thought the job of our public servants was to solicit our input so they may make informed decisions. I am confident there were other proposals other than sales and property tax increases, and would hope in the future the citizens would have a voice, even if we are outvoted by the council. That's only fair, don't you think?
Dutch Oven Chef March 29, 2012 at 02:27 PM
Funny, I don't read anywhere in my post where I say I agreed with raising the tax.... I simply stated that it would be an additional dollar on a $100 bill. I did not read of any excessive spending by the city officials in OF either, just a lack of things to further cut. My main point was that everyone would come on here and yap and complain and say we're moving, we won't shop in OF anymore.....but I am certain almost NONE of them will either run for office, volunteer for a city service or do anything that could even mildly be concerned as constructive toward helping to fix what they percieve as the problem. They are content to get on Patch and whine and moan while others are doing the work! As for low crime, I had my house broken into by what I am guessing were neighborhood kids who targeted my Nintendo Wii! They also got a bunch of other stuff but their target was the Wii. I have also had assorted vandalism to my property. Overall, I think OF is much safer than some of our neighboring villages. By the way, I am flattered you took the time to search for my other post (at least I know someone reads them!)
Dutch Oven Chef March 29, 2012 at 03:04 PM
If the schools have money, they sure aren't spending it! I work closely with one of the booster groups at the high school and some of the stuff we pay for are things that should be covered by the school but we are repeatedly told there is no money in the budget for that!
Dutch Oven Chef March 29, 2012 at 03:06 PM
I never said we lived in a Utopian Society completely free of crime..... I would venture to guess that OF's crime rate is much lower than any of it's neighbors.
Rolland March 29, 2012 at 07:06 PM
This is not the businesses fault, it is a government group buying a the church, raising the water, raising the refuse hauling, paying for Economic Development that has not happened and spending every dime they have been given by the citizens. If they are existing now without adding those full-time positions, why would they want to add them now. Add a Deputy Chief for Police at this time when you don't really need one? Why do that? Who is the person that does all the revenue estimates up at city haul, that person and the Treasurer should probably be replaced! Let's look at all the high salaries and see what is needed and what can be cut, I would believe people would be surprised by what many are making up there! Eliminate any supervisors that are not needed, I would believe you would save $500,000 there! They won't make the cuts to their friends, but they will continue to increase the burden on all the rest! These Aldermen and City Administrators talk like this is a community like Orland or Tinley, it is not! It is time to stop all the spending and live within their means. What is the next alternative, raising property taxes would not be a solution for the city! Do not confuse the city taxing authority with any other taxing body, they are not something you can compare! Each are separate entities!! It just looks like poor management of city funds!!
Dawn Kenny March 29, 2012 at 11:52 PM
Hmmm, how much will next years increase be toward the short falls they create this year now that they approved it? How about a pay cut of 1% for city hall? Sorry Oak Forest Businesses, Nothing against you, but I wont be shopping here anymore because I know next year the tax will be applied to food, etc..this is just a slick ease into what they plan to do in the future. I spend ALOT of money in this town to support the business, heck I should own Jewel..NO MORE!!! I am tire of paying the price for political screw ups!!
George Skirha March 30, 2012 at 03:43 PM
As much as I love Oak Forest, our "Leaders" just don't get it. Having the highest sales taxes and gas taxes in the area have NOT gotten us any more business. Do our business leaders ever drive around town and go ask themselves why we have nothing but small-scale retail shops here as everyone has pointed out? Take the blinders off, balance the budget like the citizens and businesses have to; by cutting costs. After the businesses leave, property owners will begin to leave as well. Someone has make the hard, unpopular decisions in the Administration to change the course of the Titanic and bring business and customers back.
Roger Norkus March 31, 2012 at 01:43 PM
How much do we spend on Consultants and Lawyers??? Why do we have people working and running Oak Forest ? We need to get rid of one or the other...
Ralph Chichester March 31, 2012 at 01:44 PM
If the city of Oak Forest has a budget shortfall here is an idea to save a lot of money everyone knows what the price of gas is now its over $4.00 a gallon.Take a look at the police car fleet in OF they are all V8 engine Ford Crown Victorias gas hogs I know I owned one and dumped it years ago. Why have these cars not been replaced little by little until they were all out of the fleet. We need 6 cylinder police cars there is no need for a V8 anymore other cities have done this as well as Cook County Forest Preserve Police and Sherriff they use V 6 Chevy Impalas. The OF police cars get maybe 14 miles per gallon around the city with air conditioning running a lot less. I know i will hear we dont have money for new police cars but like I said before they should have been slowly replacing these gas hogs little by little over the years just think how much money would be saved on the budget paying less for gas for all those police cars.
NANCY GRACE March 31, 2012 at 02:48 PM
Who pays for the gas when the officers drive their squads off duty to jewel or out for lunch??
Frank DeVries March 31, 2012 at 03:18 PM
Why not have all municipal employees live in town like it used to be? Now they take the money from OF and spend it elsewhere. Then there will be fewer homes vacant as well and back on the tax rolls.Also if the banks that own these homes dont pay the taxes on them pass a home rule that will have them pay or that OF can repo the homes at a tax sale , and have them occupied and paying their fair share. Unless the politians here are also in the bankers pocket. THE BANKS CAUSED THIS PROBLEM LET THEM PAY INSTEAD OF THE TAX PAYER.
Michael M. March 31, 2012 at 04:13 PM
The banks did not cause the problem all by themselves and that is another issue. The tax is just another tax and spend scheme. It is not their money so they do not care if they are fiscally responsible with it or not, they know there is always a bucket that they can reach their hands into for more money, and we are the bucket. CUT SPENDING is the answer. Frank- houses can be taken from the bank if they do not pay the taxes, and that is done at the county level I believe, and many banks already allow that to happen, especially if they do not want the property. How much is a fair share? No one pays a fair share, almost half of all Americans do not pay any income tax, and I am not in that category, so go after them and have them pay their fair share. What you really mean by "fair share" is, let the other guy pay more taxes, but don't make me pay more taxes. And if you think that you should be paying more taxes, then there is a provision in the tax code that allows you to pay more taxes, all you have to do is a cut a check.
Joan B. March 31, 2012 at 05:01 PM
Just what is the deal with OF contracting with a landscaper to maintain foreclosed and abandoned properties? Yes, these properties need to be kept up to code, but wouldn't it be more reasonable to use someone already on the city payroll to do this and not pay a contracted landscaper around $9000 to mow grass? The city government needs to stop spending money on many things. I'd also like to know how many employees and their titles in each city department. I'll bet that there are positions that are occupied that are not necessary. Naturally, I don't want to see people lose their jobs, but the city is bleeding to death and the residents are taking the brunt of the burden.
Baba Wawa March 31, 2012 at 05:13 PM
Meijer is in Orland Park.
NANCY GRACE March 31, 2012 at 05:46 PM
Have offenders serving community service hours cut the grass instead of us paying for it.
Bonnie Bell March 31, 2012 at 10:15 PM
Even my 13 year old understands all this.....we just returned from Crestwood Walmart and Target; and he said," What retail stores does Oak Forest have... NONE!"
Dave Klusacek April 01, 2012 at 12:42 AM
Dave K. While I agree with some of the topics posted here, but not all of them, My wife and I just ate at an Oak Forest Restaurant - NEW HORIZON - because I don't blame our neighbors who make a living in Oak Forest, and I will do everything to SUPPORT THEM!. Tax or no tax. We neeed to stop putting the burden on our current business, remeber they could be your neighbor. You are not doing anyone any good by boycotting Oak Forest. If you don't like the way the city is running, GET OUT AND VOTE!! Pickett city hall, make calls to your alderperson, call the mayor, go to a council meeting, use your voice! Why do we have to make the business' suffer for the mistakes of goverment? What have the local business done to deserve this disrespect from us? Most are just hanging on, this town will never turn around if we don't support them. And that's what we should do, support them, take a different approach to fight city hall.
Darnell April 02, 2012 at 03:25 PM
@ Klusacek: You ask "Why do we have to make the business' suffer for the mistakes of goverment?" It is the government making the businesses suffer,,not we the people. People are protesting albeit not with pickets signs outside city hall, but by making purchases outside OF to avoid paying the sales tax. This response is not targeted personally at the businesses but at the City of OF. This situation was created by the City of OF and as a direct result of the back lash, the business's are caught in the middle and wind up on the short end! Chicago's Sale tax is 9.5% for a population of 12,869,257. Oak Forest Sales tax is now going to be 9.25% just a 1/4% shy of Chicago's and our population is a mere 27,962. Kinda makes you wonder, how come ours is as high, for a city whose budget couldn't hold a candle to Chicago's budget and who's population is less than 1/8 of a % than Chicago's. Mismanagement seems to come into mind! Familiarity Breeds Contempt. It's easier for them to keep taxing because the people just roll over ,,grumble a bit about it and just go on about there lives! Rather than sit down and take a serious look and tighten the belts and cut! Wait,,,we are still going to be corn holed with a property tax increase. Mark my words,,it will come! THEY DON"T KNOW ANYTHING ELSE!!!
Patrick McCarthy April 02, 2012 at 07:05 PM
I agree about not boycotting our businesses. In the past week I have ordered a large coffee from McDonalds that is $1.00in 4 different towns and guess what? Oak Forest was 1.08 with tax, Crestwood was 1.09 with tax, Alsip was 1.09 with tax and Oak Lawn was 1.09 with tax. So I guess other towns do have higher tax rates. Be careful what you do when you shop in other towns.
Patrick McCarthy April 02, 2012 at 07:07 PM
Chicago's population is not over 12 million!!!!
chuck toland April 02, 2012 at 09:20 PM
The last couple of years the non-union city employees have taken a 10% wage reductiion through furlough days and no wage increases in 3-years. Please feel free to call me with any questions regarding these facts. I am happy to provide anything to you. I have sent out thousands of emails regarding budget meetings and one resident showed up to one meeting. The fact is the levy should have been about 15% for the last 3-years, and the water minimum usage fee shoud have been $20, not $15. We tried to keep the rates as low as possible with the residents in mind, but the city can no longer cut anything. I would be happy to go over the budget line by line with anyone. This was a really hard decision, and I feel for the residents. Give me a call at 708-671-5400 during the day, and I can go over anything you want.
chuck toland April 02, 2012 at 09:30 PM
I forgot to mention that the union employees made concessions as well, and it was greatly appreciated.
Michael M. April 25, 2012 at 03:34 AM
Maybe the tax would not have been needed if the city was not using tax payer dollars to pay for facade improvements for businesses in Oak Forest.
David B April 25, 2012 at 01:18 PM
@ McCarthy,,it was a typo, should be 2,869,257
mary anne zeug May 10, 2012 at 02:25 PM
i see a decline in oak forest we are in a recession we dont need a higher tax on food the elected officials have done nothing to get better business here shop oak forest for WHAT there is no target no walmart nothing for the average family to buy here in our city other cities have done a better job of luring and snagging business to come to our area and because there our no good stores our revenue has fallen and will fall and our services will decline crime is here vandals are here but this is a good area and the families and people here need to be helped and supported

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