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Special Tax Levy To Help West Town Businesses Subject of Hearing Thursday

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DNAinfo/Alisa Hauser

WEST TOWN — Supporters of a special tax levy designed to improve a West Town business district are pushing for the renewal of the Special Service Area for another 15 years, and say they are planning to attend a City Hall hearing on the proposal on Thursday.

The tax levy is used for garbage pickup, snow and graffiti removal, as well as for marketing and events. The tax — paid by all property owners on parts of Chicago, Milwaukee, Ogden, Ashland and Damen avenues — ranged from an average of $388 for a residential property to an average of $976 for a commercial property in 2012.

"It's very important that all of these services stay in the neighborhood. We need graffiti and garbage clean up and facade rebates," said Linda Alcala, owner of Alcala's Boutique at 1739 W. Chicago Ave.

Alcala, who has been distributing "I Love West Town SSA" fliers, is also the secretary of the West Town SSA and a volunteer commissioner who will help to oversee the proposed 2015 service area budget of nearly $572,000.

Earlier this week, the West Town Chamber of Commerce, which manages the Special Service Area's budget, sent out an email urging property owners to "Save the West Town SSA" and to sign a petition in favor of the proposed renewal in January, as well as an expansion of streets covered by the SSA.

The chamber's email showed photos of overflowing garbage cans, warning that trash removal would be discontinued and the cans would be removed if the district is not renewed.

Also at jeopardy would be snow and graffiti removal, all supplemental services done by contractors to augment city services, the chamber said. A big part of the budget also goes to advertising and marketing.

An owner of a residential unit located on a commercial strip in the district could pay as much as $460 annually, the owner of a small multiuse building would pay a maximum of about $800, and a commercial unit owner would

pay a maximum of about $1,100, according to data distributed by Kimberly Bares, a consultant hired by the West Town Chamber of Commerce to assist in the 15-month renewal process .

Slightly more than half of the properties in the area are residential or small-mixed used buildings.

As part of its renewal application, the district needs at least 20 percent of the owners of the 1,270 parcels in the district to approve the tax. Kara Salgado, executive director of West Town Chamber of Commerce, said that enough signatures were received in advance of the hearing.

Neal McKnight, president of the East Village Association, said that anything less than 20 percent "would be taxation without representation."

The proposed renewal drew some controversy at a community meeting last year, prompting one property and business owner to say, "I want to know how many people come to you and say 'Please raise my taxes.'"

A small but vocal group of property owners in one section of Damen Avenue gathered signatures of opposition from property owners on their street to be removed from the proposed future map.

The City Council's Committee on Finance will hold the public hearing at 10 a.m. Thursday at City Hall on whether the district should be renewed through 2030. The full City Council would still have to sign off on the plan.

A free SSA "Supporters Trolley" will be departing from 1819 W. Chicago Ave. at 9 a.m. Thursday and transporting attendees to and from the hearing, according to a flier.

If approved, the new West Town district will now include Ashland Avenue between Division Street and Chicago Avenue, Milwaukee Avenue from Division Street to Erie, and Damen Avenue from Chicago Avenue to Huron.

West Town's SSA is one of 47 existing districts in the city that have an aggregate budget of $26 million, typically spent on supplemental services such as maintenance, public way upkeep, safety, and facade improvements.

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