By Mona Shannon
Zion-Benton News staff
The Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce held its semi-annual Mayor’s Luncheon last week at Shepherd’s Crook Golf Course in Zion. Zion Mayor Al Hill, Beach Park Mayor John Hucker, Wadsworth Mayor Glenn Rybeck and Winthrop Harbor Mayor-elect Mike Bruno were invited to share what’s going on in their communities. Along with that was a good amount of appreciation for the efforts all four communities are making to work together for the good of all.
Mayor John Hucker, Beach Park, noted the village board just passed a balanced budget. “We have a long history of always trying to live within our means. We don’t have legacy costs that our older neighbors have and it’s a challenge to not create that for someone down the line.”
He said as the state goes through its budget it’s often perceived that local municipalities are given money, but that’s not the case. “It’s not a gift--it’s sales tax, income tax and motor fuel tax. It’s shared revenue and it’s what Beach Park lives off. We have no real estate tax but if the state starts pilfering our share we may have to break our pledge to not have that tax. We raised the utility tax a year ago to provide funds to accelerate the road repair and paving program.”
Beach Park projects include installing street lights on a stretch of Sheridan Road; working with the IDNR to connect Beach Road bike path to the state park and adding walking/biking paths along Sheridan Road and painting the water tower inside and out.
Speedway and Dollar General’s plans to build at Wadsworth and Green Bay roads are still on track. The holdup is IDOT. “We are in month 26,” Hucker said.
Hucker said he and his staff will continue to meet with all the mayors from northeast Lake County. “It’s borne fruit and opened doors for cooperation whether legislatively or regionally.”
Hucker said the biggest deal is the Land Bank project which allows municipalities to free up land that is under such a heavy tax burden that no one will buy it. This allows them to clean up the tax liability and get the property into the hands of developers. Also ongoing is the regional economic development between Beach Park, Zion and Winthrop Harbor. “We are getting Retail Strategies up to speed and they are starting to market the region to retailers.”
Hucker said Beach Park will continue to stand with Zion in its efforts to get reimbursed for the spent fuel stored on the lakefront. “Beach Park doesn’t stand to benefit directly from this but we know what happens in one community impacts its neighbors.”
Wadsworth Mayor Glenn Rybeck said the Shanty Restaurant and Captain Porky’s have broken ground on an expansion. The restaurant expansion will have glass walls overlooking the wetlands and river. It will accommodate larger groups, provide more seating and room for waiting. Captain Porky’s will have a separate kitchen for its catering operation. And there will be a bell tower with a bell from France that will be rung every hour during the day.
Ryback said the village benefits from video gaming and sales tax income. “I think we have video gaming in every gas station in town. It helped with the road program along with a sales tax increase that residents supported. We are spending $600,000 on roads which is double what we spent in the past. If funding continues we may do a second road program later in the year.” He added that the village’s two parks are getting new equipment.
Ryback said the truck stop at old highway 41will be razed and a new one story facility with a convenience store and Denny’s restaurant will be built there. He said Loves Travel Centers is looking at building a transportation center across the street. “There is no residential in this area, just trucks.”
He said Russell Road is to be repaved and the Millennium bike trail will be extended to the river.
Zion Mayor Al Hill said some new businesses are coming to Zion: a dialysis center on the west side of Sheridan Road at 20th Street and a Riley Auto Parts, north of the old Kern building. In addition, a gas station will be built on the Walmart property at Route 173 and Kenosha Road.
Hill said the city has applied for an Enterprise Zone status which would help compete with Wisconsin in drawing business here. He said the Trumpet Park TIF was established a month ago and there have already been inquiries from three individuals for up to 1.5 million square feet. He said the city is investigating another TIF for Sheridan Road from 24th Street to 17th Street and west to Jewel to spur new development
He said TIF1 which encompassed 31st to 24th Streets on Sheridan Road is closing. “TIF1 started with EAV of $6.9 million; 23 years later the EAV in 2016 is $18.9 million. That is a $12 million dollar increment that translates to property value increase from $21 million to $52 million. He said that’s $2.4 million a year out of TIF1 for taxing bodies.
This is the final year TIF1 funds can be spent so the city plans to improve streets, parking lots and infrastructure.
He said the city has received Community Block Development Grant funds in the amount of $2.5 million over the past few years for streets and infrastructure. There are CDBG funds available for facade and signage for small businesses.
He thanked the mayors and staff members who came up with the idea of marketing all three communities. The communities have hired Retail Strategies to market the region as one. Each municipality will pay their share of the cost based on population and if any retail development comes into the three communities they share the sales tax revenue based on population.
He credited all the local taxing bodies for efforts to gain reimbursement for spent fuel storage. It began with a group of two representatives from each taxing body working together to find ways to save money. The focus moved to the spent fuel rods and getting reimbursement for hosting it. “We had momentum going with Congressman Dold. He was not re-elected. We met with Congressman Schneider who is 100 percent behind us. Now Sen. Duckworth is 100 percent behind it, too. We are waiting on their lead as they are the experts in getting legislation.”
He said two years ago a company proposed a medical marijuana cultivation center in Zion. One license is awarded for each state patrol region and Hill said the license for Region 2 was awarded to a company that it should not have been. He said it is now in court and should be resolved in August. Hill added that the potential revenue is not as much as initially thought, as there hasn’t been as much demand.
Hill also commented on the recent arrest of two Zion men for supporting ISIS. He said the FBI was watching them for 1 1/2 years. “The FBI knew what they were doing and where they were 24 hours a day. They said if there was any potential for something to happen they would have thrown out protocol and moved in immediately.”
The new kid on the block, Winthrop Harbor Mayor-elect Dr. Michael Bruno said he is looking forward to working with the other three mayors as well as meeting with the larger group of mayors from northeastern Lake County.
He said during the campaign he was asked what are the priorities for Winthrop Harbor. His answer: economic development, infrastructure improvement and intergovernmental cooperation.
We need to be innovative and attract businesses that will complement each other or feed off each other. We need to do this between all four communities. We must recognize the value of existing businesses. Economic development is not just attracting new business but also retaining businesses. Like our residents, they are the true stakeholders in the community.
He said the village needs to capitalize on its most valuable asset-the marina. Visitors are welcome--both the people and their dollars. “We look forward to working with Westrec in this public/private endeavor.”
Bruno said the challenges are not confined to our borders. “They lie with those with offices downstate. Businesses need roads, sewer, utilities. We can’t allow the state to determine our fate.”
We need local, private and public sector investment. “Businesses must beat every bush or fail--government shouldn’t be any different. The squeaky wheel gets the grease and we are going to screech like nails on a chalkboard.”