When Kane County Board member Becky Gillam thinks about the West Dundee Target store that will close in May, she pulls out a map and shakes her head.
The feature on the map that most concerns her is the proximity of the soon-to-be-vacant Target to the borders of McHenry and Cook Counties. The grass may not be greener on the other side of the county line, but it is cheaper.
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Neither county imposes an impact fee on new businesses when they come to town. Kane County does. And that's part of why Gillam thinks it will be harder for West Dundee to replace Target than it should be.
"This is particular to the east side where communities like ours are so closely located to the other counties," Gillam told her county board colleagues this week. "As small as West Dundee is, they don't have economic development staff. Just living in the community, this is devastating. This is a psychological blow to the entire area."
The county may not be able to do much about lease covenants that may prevent another discount retailer from replacing Target, but Gillam said the county can do more to help Kane County compete with its rival counties. That starts with eliminating the county's impact fees.
"That's why I bring this up," Gillam said. "We're losing business to neighboring counties. Every couple years we lose a big box store. It's going to be the whole east side jumping over the county lines."
Gillam found receptive ears on the county board's jobs committee. But it won't be easy to eliminate the impact fees. Several county board members tried to eliminate or reduce the fees in 2012. They lost.
Board members debated the topic for about four months then. A slew of local communities and the Metro West Council of Government urged officials to eliminate the fees.
But the push hit a major roadblock when county transportation department lawyers said laws don't allow the existence or amount of the fees to be used solely to spur economic growth. The fees make new businesses accountable for the increased burden placed on roads because of the increased traffic they create. As such, the fees must be tied to the actual need for road improvements.
Kane County has collected more than $22 million in impact fees for road projects since officials implemented the fee back when the county was among the fastest growing in the country.
Some board members in 2012, many of whom are no longer on the board, argued that projects like the Stearns Road bridge would never get built without the money the impact fees collect. Others argued the county would have to raise taxes on all residents to pay for road improvements if the impact fees were deleted.
But Gillam is part of a different board operating under a different administration. Board member Ron Ford, who is one of county board Chairman Chris Lauzen's closest allies among the board's Democrats, said it will take renewed lobbying by the business community to roll back the county's impact fees.
"There are two sides to a tax story," Ford said. "If you talk to the schools, they fight for the taxes. The impact fee, it is hurting us. But I don't think we can find a way to (eliminate) it without the chambers of commerce being the lead."