Does Oak Brook need a food and beverage tax? President candidates disagree
As Gopal Lalmalani seeks his third term as Oak Brook village president, he is challenged by six-year trustee John Baar.
During a recent Daily Herald endorsement interview, the men agreed they mostly agree on many issues affecting the village. But a line was drawn when the men discussed how to address the village's pension costs, which are expected to increase from $4 million to $8 million during the next 10 years.
While Lalmalani insists the village can meet its obligations by trimming expenses and finding new revenues, Baar has proposed a 1 percent food and beverage tax to be instituted.
"I do not and will not support a property tax. I do believe that a 1 percent food and beverage tax is something that is responsible to address the pension issue," Baar said. "A penny on a dollar, expiring in 2040, or before, if the pension liability is paid off or goes down to about half a million from $8 million (is needed)."
Baar said the village could further "sweeten the pot" by giving a quarter of that 1 percent to the village's restaurants "for advertising and promotional things."
Lalmalani, however, is restating a pledge he made in 2011 and again in 2015 to institute no new taxation.
"As grandma told me, 'You cut the cloth according to your size.' You trim your expenses where you can and then you increase revenue. That would be the way to go for Oak Brook to be progressive," Lalmalani said. "We need to be forward thinking and more business friendly and try to attract more business to come to Oak Brook and generate sales tax revenues and other revenues that come with it. I'm not a tax-and-spend kind of guy."
Baar called his proposal a "modest approach" and referenced a recent $90 meal he enjoyed at Oak Brook Center.
"Ninety cents would have been the food and beverage tax. That's not going to hurt me. That's not going to hurt the restaurants because every village around us has the same food and beverage tax and quite a few of them much higher," Baar said. "That's what we need to pay for our fire and police. Our fire and police are the size they are for our commercial sector, not for the 8,000 people who live in Oak Brook."
Lalmalani, however, said Baar's plan isn't worth instituting because it won't help significantly.
"The food and beverage tax is not a panacea for pensions. If you have a half percent of food and beverage tax, it only gives you $700,000 or $800,000 and 1 percent will give you $1.6 million," Lalmalani said. "That's a drop in the bucket as far as the problem is concerned. We have been paying pension contributions every year without fail."
After the endorsement interview aired on Facebook Live Dave Carlin, President and CEO of the Greater Oak Brook Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Partnership, said the organization opposes any food and beverage tax.
"During your interview, (Baar) suggested that the CEO of the chamber was pretty comfortable' with a food and beverage tax," Carlin wrote. "On behalf of the chamber's more than 300 member organizations, I wanted to share that the Greater Oak Brook Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Partnership is adamantly opposed to a food and beverage tax."