There were many interesting ideas discussed, and I am eager to hear the feedback from residents and business owners.
One takeaway for me however was the total cost involved and the potential sources of funding. The improvements proposed total an estimated $6,110,000. But there are ComEd credits that would reduce the total expenditure to an estimated $4,710,000.
How that remaining $4.7 million is funded is an open question. One idea discussed was the creation of a special taxing district known as a Special Service Area, or SSA. Whether the SSA covers the entirety of the remaining $4.7 million or is used in combination with other funds is yet to be determined and would dramatically affect the potential cost. But essentially, the SSA could levy a property tax for a defined period of time on property owners within the Special Service Area.
SSAs are not new to Naperville. The Downtown Naperville Alliance is funded through an SSA. However, it’s been a while since that Special Service Area was created, and I’d forgive someone that wasn’t up to date on the process that creates an SSA.
Spoiler alert, it’s not a simple referendum vote by the property owners affected.
The Illinois Constitution lays out the process, and you can read it here, but essentially the city would need to pass an ordinance that proposes the establishment of the SSA. Then, the governing board would need to set the time and place of a public hearing where objections may be heard. After the public hearing is held, there is a mandatory 60 day waiting period to allow for a petition to block implementation.
A petition to block implementation is only valid if it is signed by 51% of the property owners affected. This is the only opportunity an individual property owner has to “vote” on the formation of the SSA. But even then, the legal presumption is that the property owner is a yes, unless they proactively sign the petition registering them as a no.
That is because the objecting petition signatory “no votes” are judged against all the property owners affected, not just those that participate in the process.
Think about it this way. In a standard election or referendum, if there are 1,000 eligible voters but only 100 individuals that actually vote, then a majority would be 51 votes. If 200 of 1,000 eligible voters actually vote then a majority would be 101 votes, and so on.
Using the same numbers of 1,000 affected property owners, the SSA could only be halted if 510 property owners sign a petition to block implementation, no less. This is a significantly higher bar.
If no valid petition to block implementation is offered, then the governing body may adopt a final ordinance which would create the Special Service Area and levy the proposed tax.
I’m not suggesting either system is more or less fair. I’m offering this information because I don’t believe that this process is widely understood and if we go down the SSA route I, for one, would want to do so with eyes wide open.