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Pandemic-whipped sales tax receipts bumps Oak Lawn property taxes

By Dermot Connolly
A drop off in pandemic-related sales tax receipts coupled with higher labor costs led the Village of Oak Lawn to approve a 2021 budget that includes an increase in the property tax levy.
The 2021 budget of $62,348,549 approved by the Oak Lawn Village Board on Friday is a 3.8 percent increase over last year. Labor costs is the primary reason that the budget will see an increase in costs. The budget increase is due in part to a loss of about $1.8 million in sales tax.
Finance Director Brian Hanigan said the 3.8 percent increase in the village budget, up from $60,058,338 last year, was due largely to negotiated salary increases for employees ranging from 2.5 to 3 percent.
Hanigan said that while the hit in tax revenue was significant, the village fared better than some municipalities in that regard.
The village tax levy was approved, including the $5.4 million levied by Oak Lawn Public Library, which would be $19,865,982. The village portion is $14,908,035, which is up slightly from $14,238,535 from last year.
“ For the record, the Library did reduce its levy (by 5 percent),” said Mayor Sandra Bury.
Trustee Terry Vorderer (4th), who is running for mayor in April, said that if the tax levy is not reduced, it will only result in a $40 property tax increase for the average home.
“That $6 or $7 a month will mean we don’t have to lay off any police or firefighters,” Vorderer said.
“ I think the balance we struck is validated by all the things happening around us. But property taxes are lower than they were 12 years ago, and property values are going up. Houses are selling quickly, and our crime rate is down,” said Trustee Tom Phelan (6th), the chairman of the village finance committee.
“ Everyone recognizes that every dollar we collect is someone’s blood, sweat and tears,” said Bury. “This budget in particular is really a tough one. I sure wish we had a more clear sight ahead of what we are facing. But it is better that we are prudent.”
“ We have held the line for so long on property taxes. It is very unfortunate that the other taxing bodies in Oak Lawn, and there are many, (usually) raise levies,” said Trustee Tim Desmond (1 st ), calling property tax “the most punitive of taxes,” because it cannot be mitigated like usage taxes on water or power.
Desmond also pointed out that the board will have an opportunity to reduce the levy before March 31, if other revenue sources are found.
“ There are a lot of projects out there. Hopefully, we will take a very serious look at other options,” Desmond said.
Desmond also noted before the meeting that the board voted against allowing cannabis sales in the village earlier this year, something he voted for, as a revenue source.
“ The average of $660 that property owners pay to the village in property taxes is a great value for what you get,” said Desmond.
“ It is $40 on top of other increases,” said Trustee Tom Phelan (6th), the finance chairman. “But I am proud of this budget. There is just no way around it. We just needed to show up their deficiencies.”
Hanigan also said that the video gaming “push tax” the village instituted last January is still being litigated, so revenue is not being collected. And a program in which Advocate Christ Medical Center paid the village a fee in lieu of taxes has yet to be renewed.
Hanigan also noted that this will be the last budget for Bury and Village Clerk Jane Quinlan, who are both stepping down following the election in April.
“ This has been an extremely difficult year. As a board going back 15 years, we committed to going through budgets and levy what we need, not the maximum we can get,” said Phelan.
“A lot of work went into this budget to make this work,” said Village Manager Randy Palmer, the former police chief. “Everyone was praising how well the police, fire department and public works employees worked (to prevent civil unrest problems in Oak Lawn). It is not free to keep that level of service. I want everybody to remember that as well.”

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