Property taxes are the number one headache for a small business in Tinley Park, says Creative Cakes Co-Owner Beth Fahey.
"It's what everybody complains about," Fahey said during a Main Street Commission meeting last week. "Businesses that don't have apartments above them (to reduce the tax burden) are really getting killed."
Commission Chairman Mike Clark agreed, saying local business owners blame village government for large tax bills.
"They don't see it as a state problem or a Cook County problem," said Clark, who owns Ed & Joe's Pizzeria and restaurant.
Village Trustee Dave Seaman said Tinley Park officials are asking Cook County to make it easier for undeveloped and vacant, non-residential properties to qualify for tax breaks by reducing the minimum vacancy period to qualify for tax breaks under county law, reducing the time a building has to have been vacant from 24 months to 12.
"We're getting close," said Seaman, who chairs the village board's finance and economic development committee.
The "Class 8" real estate incentive program reduces the annual assessment on properties used primarily for commercial or industrial from about 40 percent of their market value to 16 percent the first 10 years, 23 percent in the 11th year and 30 percent in the 12th.
Business property in Tinley Park qualifies because the village is in Bremen Township, one of five Cook County townships blaming their high commercial and industrial vacancies on their proximity to Will County or Indiana, where property taxes are significantly lower than in Cook.
The Village Board is endorsing Class 8 status for the former Casto's Ristorante building in the 16800 block of Oak Park Avenue, which new owners hope to reopen as an Asian fusion restaurant. The tax break, which the owners say is essential to their business plan, would be routine except the location has only been vacant since October 2011, about 16 months.
Cook County waives the minimum vacancy period if the property is in a high-vacancy area, is a prime or highly-visible location or would create jobs, but the waiver issue creates an unnecessary delay, Seaman said.
Still, Seaman was optimistic. "We think they're OK," he said of the restaurant plan.
Seaman pointed out sometimes the titleholder is responsible for a property remaining vacant.
Seaman said there have been "at least three false starts" filling two units of the seven-unit mixed-use building on the southwest corner of Oak Park Avenue and 173rd Street.
The highly visible units one block north of the Metra railroad crossing have been empty since 2010 when a steakhouse and a bicycle shop moved out.
"The bank ownership seems to frustrate everything that comes into the place," Seaman said, but added vacancies on Oak Park Avenue "are really not that bad, compared to some other areas."
"We've got the whole range of landlords; some are flexible, some are not," Seaman said, adding some vacancies are attributable to landlords thinking they can still rent "at 2007 prices."