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Cook County shaves its sales tax
0.5% rollback a start, some say

Thursday, July 01, 2010
Chicago Tribune
by Duaa Eldeib

In an economy that's still struggling, clothing store manager Bob Geish is optimistic that even a small rollback of Cook County's sales tax will be good for business.

The county's sales tax drops a half a percentage point Thursday to 1.25 percent. Geish, manager of Red 21 in Burr Ridge, is hopeful that it will keep customers coming to his store instead of traveling to another county or state with lower taxes.

"I think it will have a positive impact. I really do," said Geish. "I think everyone, regardless of their economic status, is concerned with money right now."

Geish's shop is tucked away in the Burr Ridge Village Center, an upscale lifestyle shopping complex that competes not only with shops in Burr Ridge that fall in DuPage County but also with Oakbrook Center mall 15 minutes away.

"We heard it from our customers and our surveys, the sales tax issue was affecting their decision of where they want to shop," said Scott Rolston, general manager of Burr Ridge Village Center.

"Every little bit helps," he said. "I wish they would roll it back even further, but this is good news. It's a step in the right direction."

As a result of the reduction in Cook County's portion of the sales tax, the overall sales tax rate in Chicago will drop from 10.25 percent to 9.75 percent, reducing the cost of a $1,000 purchase by $5.

The overall tax rate in at Oakbrook Center in DuPage, by contrast, is 7.75 percent. In Burr Ridge, the sales tax dropped to 8.75 percent from 9.25 percent as a result of the Cook County rollback.

Opinions from shoppers on the slight rate drop were mixed, with geography playing a large part in the equation.

Jan Roberts of Chicago, who began shopping online after the Cook County Board passed the penny-on-the-dollar tax in 2008, doesn't think the rollback will affect how she shops. She found she liked hunting for online deals that often included free shipping.

"It doesn't seem like a dramatic amount to reduce it by," she said. "I don't think it will change my spending habits."

The tax dip won't change where David Seeber spends his money either — largely because the Columbia College senior can't go very far.

"I live in the city, I'm 21, and I ride a unicycle," Seeber said. "I can't get to another county to do my shopping if I wanted to."

Shopping for tax breaks is easier for those near the county's borders. Janet Meyer said she has seen the disparity the sales tax has created in her communities. Meyer is the president of the Barrington Area Chamber of Commerce, which serves businesses in Cook, Lake, McHenry and Kane counties.

The county sales tax hike has been hard on Cook County businesses, but they've persevered, she said.

"This little bit of change is a welcome relief for the stores that have survived and reinvented themselves over the past year and a half," said Meyer, who expects to see business pick up for chamber members in Cook County when families begin their back-to-school shopping.

Even with the reduction, Chicago maintains the distinction as having, with Los Angeles, the highest sales tax rate in the country, according the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce.

"We lobbied against the increase and we've been lobbying for the other half percent to be rolled back in order to get ourselves competitive with other states, and more importantly, other counties," said Jerry Roper, president of the Chicagoland Chamber.

Cook County Board President Todd Stroger had championed the 1 percentage-point sales tax increase, and vetoed several attempts by commissioners to reduce it. His insistence on the higher tax, which he said was necessary for reasons that included continued health care for the poor in Cook County, contributed to his overwhelming defeat by Chicago Ald. Toni Preckwinkle in February's primary for the Democratic nomination for board president.

The tax hike led many people to look for ways to save money, including Eric Medina of Chicago. After the tax increase passed, Medina and his wife began combining shopping trips with visits to family in Aurora.

Medina couldn't say for sure if the decrease will have him shopping closer to home. Frank Elton, who works in south suburban Steger, said the rollback wasn't anywhere near big enough.

"With the economy the way it is now, I don't think it's going to do much of anything," said Elton, whose wife owns a restaurant on the Cook County side of the village, which straddles Will County. "Roll it back three pennies. That'll make a difference."

Mike Pietrusinski agrees. If he's buying electronics or clothes, the resident of Chicago's South Deering neighborhood said he prefers to make the 5-mile ride to Hammond. The sales tax in Chicago is too much for him.

"Lower it to 7 or 8 percent," he said. "That's going to bring people back."

State Rep. Mark Walker, D-Arlington Heights, wants to eliminate the remaining half percentage point of the original county tax hike, bringing it back to .75 percent.

Walker, who introduced legislation that helped commissioners pass the rollback after Stroger's vetoes, is working with county Commissioner Timothy Schneider, R-Streamwood, on the additional tax cut.

"I think the (half-point) rollback will bring some relief, but most of it will be psychological because we need to (cut) it further to have economic relief," Walker said.



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