Wheaton Mayor Michael Gresk cast the deciding vote Monday to approve the establishment of a new Special Services Area that will fund the Downtown Wheaton Association.
The vote establishing SSA #7 mirrored the October vote that moved the process to the public hearing stage. Council members Jeanne Ives, Evelyn Pacino-Sanguinetti and Phil Suess opposed the plan.
While the SSA has been approved, a legal challenge may be filed by those who opposed its creation.
Last week opponents of the proposed SSA filed petitions opposing the creation of the taxing district that will fund the Downtown Wheaton Association. There were 86 petitions filed by property owners and 28 by electors, or proprietors renting the downtown properties—more than the magical number of 51 percent called for by state statutes. According to statutes governing Special Service Areas, opponents of the plan who reside in, own property in or are taxpayers in the proposed district may automatically defeat the proposal if 51 percent file valid written objections to the city clerk by the end of the 60-day period. If that is met, the SSA cannot be established for a minimum of two years.
However, after a review of the petitions, city staff threw out a number of petitions for various reasons, including invalid signatures, or were not in the chain of title of ownership according to county records, said James Knippen, attorney for the city.
“We found a number of people who thought they were owners and weren’t, or at least weren’t owners of record,” Knippen said.
Opponents of the SSA process argued it is flawed because property owners who do not sign a petition opposing the plan are automatically considered a supporting vote—even if property owners are deceased. The opponents argued that allowing the dead to “have a voice” in the SSA is similar to the voting corruption found in Chicago history.
“What’s right is right and what’s wrong is wrong, dead people do not vote,” said Glenn Kosirog, an opponent of the proposal.
Ives said there is at least one property owner on the list who has been dead since 2008, but he was considered a supporting vote. By approving the SSA based on a flawed process, she said the city has opened itself up to litigation.
Gresk said he did not think any lawsuit challenging the SSA would have merit. He said he is confident city staff followed the guidelines of the law.
Mark Stern, an attorney for the opposition, said he hoped council would follow common sense when they saw so many property owners object.
“Nothing requires you to impose this tax if you believe the majority doesn’t want it. Those for the tax, many of whom are not property owners, don’t add up to our majority,” Stern said.
Earlier this year SSA #7 was proposed by the to replace SSA #6. Under the new proposal, the DWA would reduce the tax rate from 95 cents per $100 to 45 cents. Under the current 95 cent rate, the city of Wheaton receives 60 percent of the funds and the DWA receives 40. Under the new 45 cent proposal the DWA would directly receive all the funding. DWA officials want to change the funding mechanism because many of the downtown properties are in one of three TIF district and any extra monies generated through property taxes are sent into one of the TIF funds.
Keven Graham, immediate past president of the DWA, argued that if the SSA was not approved, that of the DWA and its downtown marketing efforts.
Following the vote, Graham said he was pleased council supported the mission of the DWA. He said the organization would reach out to other business owners in the SSA who claimed they were not benefiting from the DWA efforts, such as a recent Groupon.com offering, and see how the organization could meet their needs.