South suburban mayors make plea on apprenticeship program

By Kevin Beese For Chronicle Media

Homewood Mayor Richard Hofeld

A show of force by south suburban mayors has kept as much as $47 million in development for their towns from going elsewhere.

Nineteen mayors from the South Suburbs made their plea to Cook County commissioners to repeal county legislation, passed just a year ago, that required any contractor working on a project getting a Class 8 county tax incentive to participate in union apprenticeship programs.

The required apprenticeship program was seen as one way to ensure that developers in five south suburban townships were paying prevailing wage. County officials said that without the legislation requiring individual workers be enrolled in apprentice programs, towns in Bloom, Bremen, Calumet, Rich and Thornton townships would not qualify to offer Class 8 tax incentives.

Industrial and commercial properties given Class 8 designation are assessed at 10 percent of market value for 10 years, 15 percent of market value in year 11 and 20 percent in year 12. Such business parcels are normally assessed at 25 percent of market value.

Hazel Crest Mayor Vernard Alsberry Jr. said to add a work-program requirement, such as the apprenticeships, onto a tax incentive “is ludicrous.”

Alsberry, who stated his town alone could lose $20 million in development without repeal of the legislation, said that the apprentice program was put in place because some company came in under a Class 8 incentive with mass-production operations and did not hire any union workers.

He said the South Suburbs were being singled out with the apprenticeship requirement only written into the legislation for Class 8’s for the five south suburban townships.

“I can understand if it was county-wide, but to focus on an area in the Southland that is having difficulties already getting development because we border on Northwestern Indiana and Will County isn’t right,” Alsberry said. “To tack something onto a tax amendment that is already there is unfair.”

Hazel Crest Mayor Vernard Alsberry Jr.

The appearance of 19 south suburban mayors at last week’s County Board meeting got the attention of county commissioners, who approved the repeal in a 9-6 vote.

Voting in favor of the repeal were county commissioners Luis Arroyo Jr., Richard Boykin, Dennis Deer, Gregg Goslin, Edward Moody, Stanley Moore, Sean Morrison, Tim Schneider and Deborah Sims

Voting against repealing the measure were commissioners John Daley, Bridget Gainer, Jesus Garcia, Pete Silvestri, Larry Suffredin and Jeffrey Tobolski,

Absent were commissioners Jerry Butler and John Fritchey.

“We could see $47 million walk away from these communities, if we do nothing,” Sims said.

Suffredin felt the proposed repeal should have been sent to committee for a “fuller hearing” rather than simply being voted on at the County Board’s July 19 meeting.

Sims felt the 19 south suburban mayors, who spent much of that day lobbying board members, were entitled to action before they left.

“They didn’t come for us to listen to them; they came for us to take action,” Sims said of the 19 mayors in attendance. “I think it would be an insult to them to have them leave and us not have this resolved.”

Gainer said the union provision in the Class 8 legislation for Bremen and the other south suburban townships is not to prevent economic development as the firms are already required to pay prevailing wage.

“There are times workers have been brought in and were not paid the prevailing wage,” Gainer said, noting that other townships outside of the South Suburbs have been using Class 8 incentives, successfully.

County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said she is willing to work so that the apprenticeship requirement is enacted uniformly across the county and “is not singling out five townships.”

Homewood Mayor Richard Hofeld said the last time he was before the commissioners it was during the recession and was there on behalf of Chevrolet of Homewood.

“They were down to two employees and zero sales,” Hofeld said. “I came before you and got bilateral support for a temporary tax abatement and what a success it was. That Chevy dealership now employees more than 70 people and is a tax contributor.”

Glenwood Mayor Ron Gardiner said that his village has successfully used Class 8 incentives for years and is hopeful of using the tax break to generate development at the 21-acre Glenwood Plaza, located at 183rd and Halsted streets.

“A once thriving economic engine for the town now lays in ruins and is a terrible front door to our community,” Gardiner said of the failed plaza.

He said a developer has been lined up for the redevelopment project, but needs the Class 8 incentive to seal the deal.

“It would be devastating to us as our main focus may slip through our grasp,” Gardiner said.



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