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County committee advances bill despite Southland objection

The Cook County Board of Commissioners on Wednesday, March 14, approved an ordinance amendment that south suburban officials believe will have a devastating effect on the local economy.  
“It’s just very disappointing,” Homewood Mayor Richard Hofeld said. 
The amendment requires any business receiving a Class 6b, Class 8 or Class 9 property tax incentive to pay construction contractors a “prevailing wage.” Under Illinois law, public bodies hiring contractors for similar work pay that rate, which is set by the Illinois Department of Labor. 
The county’s property tax incentives are intended to help towns attract business by lowering real estate taxes. They’re particularly important in the South Suburbs, where towns compete with lower taxes in Indiana and the collar counties. 
In many cases, paying a prevailing wage would add to a project’s bottom line because it includes the cost of healthcare and pension benefits. That increase would often negate any savings given by the tax incentives.
The amendment passed the Finance Committee 12-4 with 13th District Commissioner Larry Suffredin absent. It was passed by the full board 11-4 with Suffredin and Commissioner Jesus Garcia absent. 
“We’re fighting a fight with Indiana. We struggle here in south Cook County and you go over into Indiana where there’s a vibrant, bustling economy and it’s essentially because of the real estate taxes,” Hofeld said. “With the provisions put on (the Class 8 and Class 6b), it will be very difficult to attract business.”
Homewood and Flossmoor are in the county’s 5th and 6th districts. Commissioners Deborah Sims and Edward Moody, both Democrats, represent local residents. Moody co-sponsored the amendment and both he and Sims voted for it.
Sims said it was the first time she’d “let her district down,” adding it “made me sick to my stomach.” 
“Our own commissioners didn’t support us,” Hofeld said. “How can you succumb to outside pressures when your constituency is asking you to help them?”
Hofeld and dozens of other mayors, managers and other representatives from the South Suburbs spoke to the committee at it March 14 meeting. Many also did so March 1, when the ordinance amendment was first raised by the committee. 
“We made our points. We made our statements, as did the economic development directors for various towns, as did the regional groups, as did attorneys, representatives of business interests, real estate interests,” Hofeld said. “To be honest with you, I think with so many of the commissioners it’s fallen on deaf ears.”
Commissioner Timothy Schneider made a motion to delay action Wednesday to give the board time to study the potential impact. That motion failed seven to nine. 
“To the best of my knowledge, commissioners wanted it to go to a vote before the (March 20) election because labor interests were pushing for it,” Hofeld said. 
Sims is seeking re-election. Moody is not running for election.
A change made Wednesday delays the implementation of the new rules from July until September. It also establishes an advisory council to look for problems. Hofeld said, if he’s eligible, he would serve on the advisory council.
Commissioner Jeff Tobolski, who sponsored the amendment, said it will protect Illinois workers.
“This ordinance today came about as a result of the fact that, more and more, we’re seeing people outside of the State of Illinois come here and work for these wages when our people do not,” Tobolski said. “That, I cannot have.”
Commissioner John Daley voted against the amendment. 
“(Tobolski) has stated that he’s willing to compromise as we go to the future,” Daley said. “But I question whether, if this was another district of the county (protesting), if we would be voting this way.”

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