Fittest loser
Article updated: 9/17/2013 5:07 AM

Downtown Geneva sales tax? Trustees favor studying idea

Is downtown Geneva blighted? Technically, it might qualify.

Is downtown Geneva blighted? Technically, it might qualify.

 

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Downtown Geneva is "blighted?"

According to a preliminary report from a consultant, yes, under the definitions of a state law that allows towns to condemn properties or raise sales taxes to improve business districts.

The report was attached to a request for spending up to $12,300 for the consultant to make a plan for a new downtown business district.

In such a district, the city would have the power to levy additional sales or hotel taxes, to pay for things that would improve the downtown, including aiding private businesses.

The council gave a preliminary go-ahead Monday, and will vote officially on the contract Sept. 23.

Alderman Richard Marks was the only one of nine aldermen present to vote "no."

Marks asked whether the study should continue, or be postponed until the city council decides if it has "the fortitude" to enact a higher sales tax. Under a designated downtown business district, the city could add up to 1 percent sales tax.

The tax would not apply to the sale of vehicles, medical devices or groceries. The district would expire after 23 years.

But Alderman Craig Maladra said it would "be premature to say 'yea' or 'nay'" without knowing what projects could be undertaken and how such money could be used for them. So he favored spending the money to finish the study.

The council hired Ehlers and Associates in 2013, using money from a Kane County Small Cities Grant. The first phase, not to exceed $9,500, was to determine whether the city was eligible under state law for a business district, and what the boundaries would be.

In 2011, the city adopted a Downtown/Station Area Master Plan, which identified seven sites for major redevelopment.

They included the empty Cetron and Geneva Bottling Works factories, and the closed Mill Race Inn restaurant property.

The downtown qualifies as a "blighted" area because, according to the Ehlers report, there are unsafe conditions. Namely, that more than one-third of the properties do not have automated fire-suppression systems.

Fire department officials have noted that a fire could easily spread from building to building and damage the historic structures for which the downtown is noted. In a designated business district, the extra sales tax could be designated to offer loans or grants to property owners to put in sprinklers.

State law sets out five criteria for being designated as "blighted." An eligible district only has to meet one criteria.

The proposed district also has obsolete or improper platting of properties, and the number of traffic accidents at State Street and Route 25 and State Street and Route 31 are minor factors in deeming the downtown "unsafe."

It also qualifies under the "economic liability" factor, because the equalized assessed valuation of property in the proposed district has decreased for four of the last five calendar years.

Some of the downtown was covered in the Central Business District, which expired earlier this year. Money from that paid for work on facades of historic buildings.

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