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.
"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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