Kadner: Wal-Mart opposition heating up
BY PHIL KADNER firstname.lastname@example.org September 19, 2013 9:54PM
A big-box retail development was proposed for this property southwest of the intersection of Harlem Avenue and 191st Street in Tinley Park. | File photo
Updated: October 21, 2013 2:17PM
Residents are gearing up to battle a proposed Wal-Mart/Sam’s Club development in Tinley Park.
At least that’s what they’re telling me via email. They’re going to ask two school districts and a park district not to approve tax abatements that the village of Tinley Park is requesting.
Steve Reed is one of the residents outraged by the deal, which he claims will drive homeowners out of their homes. He lives in the Brookside Glen subdivision near the proposed development.
Reed, a firefighter, said his property tax is about $12,000 a year and he believes the tax abatement deal Tinley has hammered out with Wal-Mart will cause that to increase.
I don’t believe that to be the case. The property in question, on 191st Street near Harlem Avenue, is owned by Lincoln-Way Community High School District 210 and is operated as a farm.
The property now generates about $170 a year in property tax. Developed as a Wal-Mart/Sam’s Club, Tinley estimates the property revenue at $10 million a year. The high school district would get an additional $7 million from the sale of land.
But Reed insists there is a way the school districts could pass a 21/2-year tax abatement for Wal-Mart on to property owners.
“I don’t trust any of these people because they have been merciless in increasing our property taxes,” Reed said.
“People are being forced out of their homes. People are going to move. This is a real problem.”
Reed insists that my conjecture that people want the community to remain rural in nature, or oppose development in general, simply is wrong and distracts from the real argument.
“This is about Tinley Park forcing something down our throats that we don’t want,” he said. “They tried to keep the information secret. This is about the people being able to determine what they want.”
He noted that five years ago the idea of Wal-Mart buying the property was floated and contends that community opposition killed the development at that time.
Reed isn’t the only one telling me this sort of stuff. Other readers are saying the same thing.
However, some of them mention fears about increases in traffic and crime, even blaming the murders at a Lane Bryant store in a Tinley shopping plaza on this sort of economic growth.
As for the property tax question, I called Lincoln-Way School District Supt. Scott Tingley and put the question to him.
Would the sale of the property to Wal-Mart and the abatement deal result in an increased tax levy that would be passed on to homeowners and businesses in the school district?
“No, it would not,” Tingley said, even confirming that with his district’s business manager.
Tingley emphasized that the school board has yet to approve the sale of the property or the abatement deal.
But he did note that the sale is being negotiated through Tinley Park and not the school district.
“If the school district were to sell the land itself, we would have to do that through a closed bid process by law,” Tingley said.
In other words, bids would be taken and the school district would have no choice in who would buy the land or how it would be developed. It would sell to the highest bidder.
Part of the problem here, I believe, is that most people don’t understand how property taxes are set.
It’s based on a property tax levy, the amount of money a government body determines it needs to operate.
In Illinois, more than 60 percent of a property tax bill usually is generated by high school and elementary school districts.
That’s because this state ranks dead last in the nation in share of the public education costs it picks up.
With the state failing to pay even one-third of the cost of the public schools, property owners are stuck with the tab.
The Lincoln-Way school district, by the way, is considered one of the best in Illinois.
Reed said the quality of the schools is the reason he chose to buy his home there.
But back to the controversy at hand.
I have many readers telling me that Wal-Mart simply doesn’t deserve a tax break because it is one of the biggest companies in the nation and founding family members are billionaires.
Wal-Mart is fabulously successful. And it has always pressured communities for tax breaks.
I am not in sympathy with Wal-Mart. But I understand how it leverages its clout to get what it wants from taxpayers.
A Wal-Mart generates millions of dollars in sales tax revenue. That’s money municipalities can use to pay policemen, firemen, fix potholes and plow snow off the streets.
Tinley Park is kicking back 25 percent of the sales tax revenue it receives from this deal as part of Wal-Mart’s incentive package.
In addition to generating revenue and creating jobs at its stores, however, Wal-Mart drives consumers to a community.
That means more business for other stores nearby. That means new commercial development, more jobs and more sales tax revenue.
It also means more property tax revenue from business, which should translate into an easing of the property tax burden on single-family homeowners.
Reed says he knows all of that, but still isn’t buying my argument.
He’s convinced Wal-Mart is going to be a bad deal for Tinley Park.
This is not a done deal. Reed is right about that. He suggests someone was trying to secretly push it through.
That would mean Tinley village officials, board members from two school districts and a local park district all would have been in on the conspiracy.
And not all of them seem to be on board with the development at this point.
This deal should result in more tax money for the schools and ease the tax burden on homeowners.
That may not mean a lower property tax, but should mean taxes won’t increase as much as they otherwise might have in the future. Of course, the state could once again cut school funding, causing the property tax to increase. But no one seems to get really mad about that.