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Downtown tax plan advances

The City Council has set the wheels in motion to expand the area taxed to support the downtown marketing organization EvMark and extend the tax program for another dozen years.

The aldermen Monday unanimously approved introduction of a plan to add Research Park and certain other downtown areas to the Special Service Area No. 4 taxing district. (A map showing the old and new boundaries is available.)

Under the schedule adopted by the council, a public hearing will be held on the proposal on Jan. 22.

After that residents and property owners opposed to the plan would have 60 days to collect petition signatures against it. If more than half of the property owners and more than half of the voters in the area sign the petitions, it would kill the plan.

Otherwise, the City Council likely would adopt ordinances creating the expanded special service area and levying the tax to support it next spring.

The special service area tax now supports programs that provide extra sidewalk cleaning and other maintenance activities downtown as well as providing marketing support for downtown businesses.

Only a few downtown residential buildings are included in the district now. Under the plan, residents of several downtown condo and townhouse developments would be subject to the special tax for the first time. It would add the Research Park area and several smaller tracts to the tax district.

The newly-taxed residential developments would include Ivy Court at 1889 Maple Ave., Optima Views at 1720 Maple Ave., and buildings at 1738 Chicago Ave., 522 Church St. and 1572 Maple Ave.

The plan includes a slight reduction in the tax rate in the district, from $1.48 to $1.464 per $1,000 of Equalized Assessed Valuation. But because of the increased size of the district, the revenue raised would increase from $250,000 to $475,000.

EvMark's tax revenue stream has been capped at the $250,000 amount for the past decade. Under the new plan it could rise with inflation, but the tax rate would be capped at the $1.464 level.

EvMark Board Chairman Jim Nash has said the economic impact of the tax would be modest. "The maximum the typical condo owner would pay would be $120 to $130 per year," he said.

Alderman Steve Bernstein, 4th Ward, said he was concerned that the proposal seems to focus on benefits to businesses, while the expansion of the district will see many more residents paying the tax.

"Condo associations already pay for snow removal, and so forth," Ald. Bernstein said, "There's going to be some consternation about this, and I fear that if it comes down to what individual voters think, you're going to lose. It's a whole new ballgame with more residents downtown."

But Alderman Cheryl Wollin, 1st Ward, said, "All those additional swarms of peole downtown also make it more necessary to have more ongoing maintenance activities, more frequently than we have in other neighborhoods.

EvMark Executive Director Diane Williams said, "Having a lively, vibrant towntown is very important for residents' property values as investors in the downtown district."

She added that commercial buildings also pay for some of their own maintenance services in the area surrounding their buildings and that EvMark's work will supplement what's done by both commercial and residential owners.

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