A political insider, with ties to Mayor Sandra Bury, received a property tax reduction that one Trustee called “an insider deal” as other Trustees defended the move. Mayor Bury claimed that there was no evidence that the unusual deal was “an insider deal”.
The unusual tax break is a 7(c) assessment tax break that Culver’s had requested for its newest restaurant to be built on Cicero Avenue at the old Papa Joe’s location. The Culver’s franchise is owned by Guy Hollis, whose brother, Scott, ran for Village Trustee with the support of Mayor Bury and her political organization. Bury endorsed Scott Hollis for Trustee.
Trustee Robert Streit, who was the only official to vote against the tax break questioned whether anyone had checked if Culver’s received such a tax break from Evergreen Park or Bridgeview, where it has two other locations owned by Hollis. Neither location received that type of tax break, which will reduce Culver’s tax assessment ten percent of the fair market value for three years, fifteen percent for the fourth year and twenty five percent for the fifth year. Streit called it a “huge tax reduction” for a political insider.
The tax break provided on the assessment shifts the taxes to other property tax owners, including homeowners. The debate was in front of the village board because Hollis is filing an application with the County Assessor. The certification that the village approved states that the development would not go forward without the tax reduction incentive even though the development was announced months ago without any mention of a tax break.
Streit said that Culver’s has been looking to move into Oak Lawn for about four years and would move in without the tax break. Village Manager Larry Deetjen said, “it is true that Culver’s has been looking at Oak Lawn for some time” but defended the idea of giving Hollis a tax break.
There seemed to be some confusion among some of the Trustees with Trustee Terry Vorderer saying before the vote, “Larry did I understand you right. I know I didn’t vote on any tax reduction for this restaurant. This is the function of the county not the village board or the Mayor (Bury)…” Deetjen said it was a program sponsored by the county but the application required a “resolution of support” from Oak Lawn. Village Attorney Patrick Connelly said that the village’s approval was required for the application to be accepted by the Assessor and for the tax break to be given. Vorderer endorsed Hollis for Trustee and walked door to door campaigning for him in the third district.
Despite the fact that the tax reduction would not take place without the village’s approval, Deetjen tried to push the responsibility for the tax deal to the county. Deetjen said that the village doesn’t assess property in Oak Lawn noting that it is done at the county level. He said, “I can’t figure out how properties are assessed in this community by Cook County from parcel to parcel. I don’t often see rhyme or reason and in this particular case the application provides data going to Cook County to justify the request and it shows that there is a higher taxation on this property than there would be on some of the other sites that other communities have been fortunate to have Culvers.” Deetjen said he supports the assessment because the real revenue forecast is sales tax.
Despite the fact that a property tax break reduces taxes for one also increases it for others, Deetjen, although he doesn’t have a vote, made it clear how he would vote:
Anytime we can reduce taxes for business in Oak Lawn I’m going to raise my right hand
Bury spoke in favor of the deal and said Streit’s accusations were without any evidence. Streit said the only evidence he had were “the facts”. Contacted after the meeting, Streit said that the tax break has not been given to any other business in the last twelve months and he said he would be hard pressed to remember it being given more than once or twice in 25 years.
He said Culver’s is a nice restaurant but it isn’t the type of business that will generate millions for the village. While urging a no vote for the tax deal, Streit told his fellow board members, “It sure sounds like an insider deal that is as fishy as Culver’s Alaskan Cod”.
Both Mayor Sandra Bury and Village Manager Larry Deetjen have continuously refused to speak on the record with the Oak Lawn Leaf and answer questions. The village server has been programmed to block Oak Lawn Leaf reporters from communicating with officials and staff members.