information provided by South Suburban Mayors and Managers Association
EAST HAZEL CREST, Ill. (February 11, 2020) — At a recent breakfast, south suburban legislators and local mayors expressed support for the Southland Reactivation Act (the “Act”), introduced as House Bill 43, which seeks to spur reuse of vacant, tax-exempt commercial and industrial properties.
Regional leaders identified this model legislation as an immediate solution to help address high property tax burdens and the staggering number of blighted or underperforming commercial and industrial properties across the south suburbs of Chicago.
“The Southland has not only struggled to keep up, but is falling further behind other parts of the State due to the loss of our region’s legacy industrial base, the challenge to attract and retain business due to high property tax rates, and pervasive poverty and high unemployment within many of our communities,” said the bill’s lead sponsor Representative Anthony DeLuca. “The Southland Reactivation Act provides us an opportunity to attract market-driven investment to the south suburbs that will reactivate, stabilize, and grow the tax base and local jobs into the future.”
Despite the inherent benefits of the South Suburbs, the region has been unable to compete for new investment due to the high tax rates. The goal of the Act is to successfully revitalize blighted properties to get them back on the tax rolls, which in turn will add to the community’s tax base and bring jobs to the area.
The Lincoln Center (4343 W. Lincoln Hwy) in Matteson is one of many commercial sites across the Southland that could serve as a flagship property for the proposed Southland Reactivation Act. A renovated modern office building with nearly 48,000-square-feet of office space, it is in Matteson’s commercial corridor, off Interstate-57 and Cicero Avenue and Pace Bus routes. It has sufficient parking and has been beautifully landscaped. Yet due to a high tax bill the property has remained vacant for over a decade.
According to the South Suburban Land Bank and Development Authority’s records, the Lincoln Center’s assessed value was adjusted in 2007 through 2011 from $440,892 to $340,291 due to a ”total vacancy” of the property. Two businesses—Aunt Martha’s Health & Wellness and a physician—had previously occupied the premises, however in July of 2012, the records listed the Cook County Sheriff Department as the owners.
When commercial properties remain vacant and business dries up, the tax burden shifts to homeowners. At a recent meeting in late January with Southland elected officials, Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi estimated that about 71 percent of the tax base in the South Triad is paid by homeowners, compared to approximately 56 percent in the North Triad, which has a diverse taxpayer base (homeowners, office rentals, manufacturers, retailers, etc.). Additionally, according to Assessor Kaegi, Southland tax rates are the highest in the country.
“We have unique challenges in the Southland, and are trying to assemble the tools needed to address them,” said SSMMA President and Robbins Mayor Tyrone Ward. “The Southland Reactivation Act will allow us to jump-start the process.”
House Bill 43 is set to be reconsidered in Springfield next week. It is sponsored by State Rep. Anthony DeLuca, and co-sponsored by Reps. William Davis, Debbie Meyers-Martin, Robert Rita, Frances Ann Hurley, Marcus C. Evans, Jr., Thaddeus Jones, Nicholas K. Smith, Margo McDermed, Kelly M. Burke, Justin Slaughter and Emanuel Chris Welch.
If adopted, the Southland Reactivation Act will be a cost-saving tool to entice new businesses into places such as the Lincoln Center and other vacant properties across the Southland, bringing them back on the tax rolls, contributing much needed property tax revenues to all taxing bodies, and revitalizing blighted properties.
Local senators are poised to take up the measure in Springfield, as well.
“The Southland Reactivation Act is an innovative economic development tool that has the potential to reactivate and expand the tax base and create much-needed jobs for the region,” said State Senator Elgie R. Sims, Jr. (D-Chicago), who will be the lead sponsor in the Senate. “This legislation is an important first step to property tax reform, and I look forward to working with my colleagues to help them understand its significance and need for passage this spring.”
About the SSMMA
The South Suburban Mayors and Managers Association is a regional municipal association, or Council of Government (COG), for 45 municipalities in southern Cook and eastern Will Counties. SSMMA members work cooperatively on economic development, land use, transportation, planning, infrastructure, public policy, community development and housing issues.