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Southland mayors and business leaders testify against Prevailing Wage Amendment that will drive busi

Photo: (L-R top): South Holland Mayor Don DeGraff, Richton Park Mayor Rick Reinbold, Country Club Hills Mayor James Ford and Dolton Mayor Riley Rogers. (L-R, row 2): Ford Heights Mayor Annie Coulter, Homewood Mayor Richard Hofeld, Lansing Mayor Patricia Eidam and Lynwood Mayor Eugene Williams (L-R, row 3): Matteson Mayor Sheila Chalmers-Currin, Oak Forest Mayor Hank Kuspa, Olympia Fields Mayor Sterling Burke and Orland Park Mayor Keith Pekau. (L-R, row 4): Park Forest Mayor John Ostenburg, Calumet City Economic Development Director Pete Saunders, Riverdale Chief of Staff Tim Williams and Thornton Village Manager Doug Beckman. (L-R, row 5): Blue Island Director of Finance and Administration Mike Marzal, Rev. Donald Luster of Harvey, SSMMA executive Director Kristi DeLaurentiis and Chicago Southland Economic Development Corporation Executive Director and SSMMA Deputy Director Reggie Greenwood

The Cook County Board of Commissioners’ Finance Committee held public hearings March 1 on two issues essential to the viability to Southland economic development: property tax assessments in light of the Civic Consulting Alliance’s study on the Cook County property tax assessment system, and the proposed Prevailing Wage Amendment to the Tax Incentive Ordinance.  However, it was opposition to the Prevailing Wage Amendment issue that drew representatives from at least 38 of SSMMA’s 45 communities to provide hours of testimony. SSMMA and other Cook County communities oppose the Prevailing Wage Amendment introduced by lead sponsor Cook County Commissioner and McCook Village President Jeff Tobolski on the grounds that it increases cost to business, stymying growth, and does not guarantee local workers benefit.

SSMMA has grave concerns about recent changes to the Cook County Tax Incentive program and specifically with Ordinance 18-1604, a proposed Prevailing Wage Tax Incentive Amendment that requires prevailing wages be paid by employers to contractors who work on projects that receive a tax incentive. The proposed amendment also requires that contractors participate in Department of Labor apprenticeship programs which will dramatically limit the participation of local small and mid-size contractors in projects within their own communities. The Prevailing Wage Amendment threatens the future of the south suburbs as it is unnecessary and simply drives up the cost of doing business in Cook County. With neighboring Will County and Indiana nearby, higher wage costs mean higher project costs which will deter investment and the economic recovery in the Southland region.

Tobolski, lead sponsor of the Prevailing Wage Amendment, is commissioner of the 16th District and Village President of McCook, IL. His municipality, with a population of 228, is the lowest populated municipality in the county. In comparison, the population of the entire Cook County region in 2015 was 5,238,216. SSMMA’s regional population is nearly 700,000.

SSMMA appreciates all who took time out of their busy schedules to provide testimony and/or attended the public meeting in support of us on March 1.  More photos can be found here. Below are excerpts of some of the Southland statements opposing the Prevailing Wage Amendment:

“This measure won’t create jobs in our communities,” testified SSMMA Executive Director Kristi DeLaurentiis. “In fact, it will do the opposite. Passage of this amendment would dis-incentivize investment in our communities. It would drive costs for projects up, add red tape, and reduce the viability of the incentive program. It will stymy growth and investment and jobs in Cook County and our local communities. It’s too easy to avoid Cook County and move on to neighboring counties that are less costly and easier to navigate. No projects mean no construction jobs and no employees either.”

“The proposed revisions requiring prevailing wage and apprenticeship programs for property tax eligibility will dramatically adversely impact Cook County economic development efforts,” testified Chicago Southland Economic Development Corporation Executive Director and SSMMA Deputy Director Reggie Greenwood. “Indeed, the recent changes to the Cook County Tax Incentive Program along with the Prevailing Wage Tax Incentive Amendment is having a catastrophic impact on all of us trying to attract new business, retain them and close present deals that are currently in progress.”

“So much is at stake here,” stated South Holland Mayor Don DeGraff. “In my history of 25 years as an elected official, I’ve never experienced or had legislation put before me that has been more detrimental to my community and the South suburbs as a whole. And we, in South Holland, feel strongly about labor unions and the ability for labor to be fair, but the result of this will literally kill us. The required affidavits, the mandated apprentice programs, the prevailing wage will cripple Cook County, not just the South suburbs.  Without tax incentives, it is impossible to compete with Indiana, and it will be devastating to us.”

“An ever-changing incentive is really no incentive at all,” said Thornton Village Manager Doug Beckman. He cited a recent example of a business owner who wanted to buy some land for his company and put it back on the tax rolls. But they found the incentive program too unstable and unreliable, and now they are looking in Munster, IN.

“As mayor of Orland Park, the third largest tax generator for Cook County, I’m disturbed by another onerous, ill-conceived and unfunded mandate from the county,” said Orland Park Mayor Keith Pekau. “Prevailing wage determinations in Illinois are significantly higher than union scale and not determined by survey as the law intended decades ago. Prevailing wage is higher than union scale across the board.”

“Every one of us would love to see every one of us who lives and works in Cook County get the highest wages they can,” stated Park Forest Mayor John Ostenburg. “But we face a reality, and that reality is if you come to the five townships of the South suburbs, you will see empty building after empty building. You will see vacant home after vacant home because of what we’ve experienced with the economic downturn.” Ostenburg added, “There’s no commerce, no industry no commercial activity to share the tax burden with homeowners especially in Cook County with this up-side-down tax system. The heavy tax burden means that some residents are paying as much in property taxes as they’re paying on their mortgages, in some cases more.

Mayor Ostenburg also extended an invitation to the Cook County Board of Commissioners to come to the South suburbs. “We’ll get the bus and we’ll take you around from empty building to empty building, and then you tell us that we don’t need viable incentives that help us get more business. Come, I invite you. I’ll provide the bus,” he said.

“The mission of the Chicago Southland Convention & Visitors Bureau is economic development and that’s not only attracting conventions, tradeshows, conferences and sporting events to our region, but we are directly engaged in working with developers for new hotels restaurants and attractions including the potential development of a new multi-use sports complex for the Chicago Southland,” testified Chicago Southland Convention & Visitors Bureau President/CEO Jim Garrett. ““It takes many years to develop relationships with these developers; however the Prevailing Wage Amendment being presented will be a negative ramification to these projects potentially leaving them dead in the water and in jeopardy of failure.”

“So it comes down to this: Is the Tax Incentive Program going to be allowed to promote economic development or, through the Prevailing Wage amendment, impede it?” asked DeLaurentiis. “It will not add jobs in our communities—it will halt growth and investment, and impede the potential for jobs across the Southland and throughout Cook County. No projects mean no construction jobs and no employees.” Click here for a related story in the Homewood-Flossmoor Chronicle, or here for Tinley Park Mayor Jacob C. Vandenberg’s comments.

Watch the video archive of the Cook County Board of Commissioners Finance Committee Public Hearing:

March 1, 2018, 11:30 a.m.

Time: 0 – 1:27:00 – Public Testimony 18-2142 PROPOSED RESOLUTION REQUESTING A HEARING OF THE FINANCE COMMITTEE TO PRESENT AND DISCUSS THE CIVIC CONSULTING ALLIANCE STUDY ON THE COOK COUNTY PROPERTY TAX ASSESSMENT SYSTEM WHEREAS, the President of the Cook County Board of Commissioners announced in July 2017 a study to be conducted by the Civic Consulting Alliance analyzing Cook County assessment practices…

Time: 1:28:20 – 4:29:59 – Public Testimony 18-1604 PROPOSED ORDINANCE AMENDMENT PROPERTY TAX INCENTIVE – PREVAILING WAGE REQUIREMENT BE IT ORDAINED, by the Cook County Board of Commissioners, that Chapter 74 TAXATION, Section 74-71 of the Cook County Code is hereby amended as follows: Sec. 74-71. – Laws regulating the payment of wages. (a) Living wage requirement. (1) Unless expressly waived by the County Board, any Employer occupying a property that receives a property tax incentive for Class 6b industrial property, Class 8 industrial property, or Class 9 multifamily residential property shall pay not less than the Living Wage, as defined in the Cook County Procurement Code (Cook County, Ill., Code, Ch. 34, Art. IV, Div. 1 § 34-121), to each of its onsite Employees, unless such Employees’ Wages are governed by Federal or State prevailing wage law.

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