An incentive-driven upswing in sales tax and strong financial bottom line bode well for Vernon Hills, according to longtime Mayor Roger Byrne.
The introduction of affordable senior housing was another highlight noted by Byrne in a state of the community presentation Thursday at village hall.
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In a ranging discussion before about three dozen visitors, Byrne was upbeat about various aspects of village operations, initiatives and possibilities despite a still sluggish economy.
While there have been tough decisions to be made, such as offering early retirements and not filling positions to reduce the workforce, the village recently had its bond rating upgraded to Aaa and has about $18 million in reserves, he said.
"We've had a balanced budget for years now," he said. "We can do things when we need to help."
Economic development was the key of the presentation. Vernon Hills does not levy a property tax and relies on sales from its expansive corridors of stores and other businesses for about half its operating expenses.
Sales tax revenues, though still below peak levels, are expected to increase by about $1 million from two years ago to about $10.2 million for the current budget year.
Much of the growth has been fueled in recent years by six incentive agreements -- referred to by the village as strategic investments -- that offer sales tax rebates of varying types to retailers or developers.
The newcomers will generate about $500,000 a year in sales tax, Byrne said.
Five of the six resulted in 267,000 square feet of vacant retail space being filled with new businesses: Steinhafels Furniture; HH Gregg Electronics and Appliances; Gordman's department store; TigerDirect; and, Chase Properties, which operates Hawthorn Hills Square mall and brought in Dick's sporting goods as an anchor.
A sixth agreement brought a new Mariano's Fresh Market to town, which Byrne said is thriving and is expected to generate $30 million in annual sales.
Byrne added there may be improvements coming to Westfield Hawthorn mall, which years ago had proposed a major renovation and expansion but backed off. The village has been in discussion with mall executives and is optimistic some type of enhancement or expansion will be proposed, though it would be scaled down from the original plan.
In other matters, Byrne, who has been mayor since 1993, noted the completion of the Victory Centre of Vernon Hills. It will offer 111 affordable apartments and 120 supportive living units for seniors as the realization of a long-standing goal.
"Now that we've done it once, we probably need to do it again," he said.