JOLIET – The Joliet City Council on Monday dropped the idea of creating business taxing districts in 2016, saying it was too much too fast.
Business leaders made the same point in speaking against the plan before the council decided to drop it during its workshop meeting.
“There was no planning or checking with the hundreds and hundreds of businesses that would be affected by the proposal,” Don Fisher, president of the Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry told the council.
Fisher said the proposed Special Service Areas would cover most of the businesses on the West Side of Joliet.
The city’s own numbers showed it covering more than 1,500 different parcels of property worth $441 million, including such valuable real estate as Louis Joliet Mall, Chicagoland Speedway and Hollywood Casino. The money was to be used for economic development.
“This came upon us pretty quickly,” said Jay Keller, representing Chicagoland Speedway and Hollywood Casino.
The plan was first presented at a Sept. 23 meeting of the council’s Economic Development Committee but was so new that it was not on the agenda.
“This is an ambitious proposal to say the least,” said John Greuling, chief executive officer for the Will County Center for Economic Development. “However, there are a lot of unanswered questions.”
The proposal was on the agenda for a vote on Tuesday that would have set in motion the legal process for eventually setting up the SSAs for 2016 taxes.
But council members, some of whom said they too were taken by surprise by the proposal, voted, 8-0, to remove the item from the agenda.
“I didn’t know anything about this until I started getting calls and a letter from the chamber,” Councilman Michael Turk said. “We kind of put the business community on the defensive where they have to work against us to kill it. I don’t think that sends the right message.”
Councilwoman Jan Quillman said moving forward on the proposal would be “hypocritical” after election campaigns that promised a new way of doing business more openly in city government. Quillman at one point said “we’ve lost an element of trust here.”
Her comments prompted a response from Mayor Bob O’Dekirk who backed the proposal.
“This wasn’t a matter of trust. It was a matter of having a public discussion on this,” O’Dekirk said. “I’m not angry that this was taken off the agenda. I’m going to continue to move ideas forward.”
O’Dekirk said City Manager Jim Hock came up with the plan for SSAs when he asked for new ideas to fund economic development. He said the proposal was brought so quickly because of the timing needed to put it in place for next year’s taxes.
Hock laid out a timeline in which the city would have made its final vote on the plan on Dec. 28, the last day before it could be put on the tax rolls for next year.
“Part of the reason we’re here tonight is we’re pressed for time,” Hock said.
The plan would have created SSAs covering:
• A vast area on the south end of the city taking in CenterPoint Intermodal Center-Joliet, Chicagoland Speedway and Hollywood Casino;
• A Jefferson Street corridor that extended beyond Jefferson Street to pick up medical offices around Presence Saint Joseph Medical Center and an industrial park along McDonough Street
• The Louis Joliet Mall and surrounding commercial areas.