New challenges face Larson in seventh term as Schaumburg mayor
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Schaumburg Mayor Al Larson pauses to make brief remarks after being sworn in for his seventh term at last week's village board meeting.
JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer
With his seventh term now officially under way, Schaumburg Mayor Al Larson finds a new group of challenges gradually succeeding those of his sixth.
The good side of that is that the recession which plagued village operations over the past four years and ultimately triggered Schaumburg's first property tax seems to be measurably on the mend.
The bad side is that some of the new challenges — particularly the possibility of Illinois legislators reducing or eliminating municipalities' share of the state income tax — threaten to undermine the progress being made.
But as long as state interference can be kept to a minimum, Larson is reaffirming his commitment to ultimately eliminating the property tax while still rebuilding the village's emergency reserves with the economy's help.
"I'm committed to no property tax," Larson said. "I believe it's sustainable."
While administrators have described the property tax as a more predictable and stable part of a diversified revenue base, Larson said it's not the village board's job to make administrators' jobs easier.
"It's very difficult to budget when you rely on such an elastic source of revenue as sales tax," he conceded. But he feels it's the village's job to take on that difficulty for the good of residents.
Schaumburg's second mayor Bob Atcher created the system that worked so well for so long because he didn't want to make paupers out of homeowners, Larson said.
"It was designed to keep taxes as low as possible and provide services other communities couldn't," he added. "Bob certainly did not want a property tax. I understood that and I embraced that."
There is growing evidence the economy is back on Schaumburg's side in its effort to lower the new property tax. Automobile and retail sales are on the rise. The convention center is 100 percent booked this July — the first month since 2008 this has happened. And ticket sales revenue at the Prairie Center for the Arts are up 32 percent this season — $241,919 compared to last year's $182,652.
All in all, Schaumburg's diversified economy weathered the recession, Larson said. The village lost none of its hotels and only one car dealership — which has since been replaced.
Larson said he sometimes hears the criticism that there are no visitors at the convention center or riders on Schaumburg's iconic green trolleys, but that the village's numbers show otherwise.
Apart from the threat now presented by the plans of state lawmakers, Larson said one of the biggest challenges of the years ahead is his efforts to push regional transportation improvements such as the long deferred STAR line that would connect western suburbs to O'Hare.
Larson is convinced that transportation improvements are the key to economic growth as they would take cars off the road and quicken the speed of travel throughout the region.
He serves on many regional boards to help advance his vision, but has been frustrated that such groups as the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning have bought into the notion that an improvement like the STAR line is financially unrealistic at this time.
Other mayors that continue to share his passion for the project include Arlington Heights' Arlene Mulder, Hoffman Estates' Bill McLeod and Naperville's George Pradel.
Larson is also looking forward to a fresh start at the nearly paid-off Alexian Field with a new baseball team next year.
While the village's half ownership of the stadium was a source of criticism from Larson's recent political opponent Brian Costin, Larson continues to defend it as a tool adding vibrancy and attractiveness to the Schaumburg name throughout the country and beyond. It's not every Chicago suburb whose name has regularly appeared in the sports pages of Midwestern and Canadian newspapers, Larson said.
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